Australia’s favourite art prize is back with a show of 57 famous and not-quite famous faces.
EVERYBODY’S A CRITIC at Archibald time. But one man’s opinion has more significant weight than most: the Art Gallery of NSW’s head packer, who awards the annual $1,500 Packing Room Prize (this year the prize has gone to Jamie Preisz’s portrait of Jimmy Barnes). Steve Peters was the Archibald head packer for more than three decades, but this year Brett Cuthbertson took over the role. We asked Cuthbertson a few key questions about what he looks for in a winning portrait.
Brett, what have you learnt from working alongside Steve Peters?
To not take anyone or anything too seriously. That’s most important. To carefully listen to what people have to say – particularly about the Archibald – but stick to your own opinion. Steve was a great teacher.
How did you become a packer in the first place?
I’m actually an installation officer. I’m part of a team that physically hangs the artwork. But at Archibald time, it’s all packing room duties. I’ve been doing it for so long now that I can’t remember how I first came to be working there. Just lucky, I guess.
What is the atmosphere like in the packing room when the entries start arriving?
There’s a real buzz. It’s absolutely exhausting, but exciting. I love it. Artists come in every year to drop off their works, so it’s like a family reunion. They almost are your family – a crazy, creative family.
What is the importance of having a Packing Room Prize alongside the Archibald Prize?
Non-arty people should have a say too. The Archibald Prize is judged by the gallery’s Board of Trustees – I guess you could call them art experts. They’re looking at technique and style, while for the Packing Room Prize we just pick what we like. We don’t care if the technique doesn’t measure up.
What does a day in the life of the AGNSW head packer look like?
At Archibald time it’s all about receiving entries, registering them, unpacking them and then parading every single artwork in front of the judges. Once that’s done we hang the show with the exhibition curator. Oh, and every now and then I have to answer questions like these ones. Archibald, Wynne & Sulman Prizes, Art Gallery of NSW, Art Gallery Rd, The Domain 2000. 02 9225 1700. artgallery.nsw.gov.au. Thu-Tue 10am-5pm; Wed 10am-10pm. $8-$20. Until Sep 9.
Jamie Preisz, ‘Jimmy (Title Fight)’