Ben Quilty © Margaret Olley  2011 Archibald Prize Winner

Today I attended the preview of the 2011 Archibald at Tarrawarra Museum of Art.  My advice to you dear reader is…find your diary, choose a day and a time, click on this link and book in ….immediately!   People much younger than me would call this exhibition a ‘face melt’,  which is code for unbelievable!  I walked around it with my mouth open and my heart racing. There are portraits that challenge, portraits that have you smiling, portraits that make you marvel at the sheer technical genius of the painter and portraits that make you simply glad to be alive.

It’s a national sport to have an opinion about the winner of the Archibald.  The People’s Choice Award is the perfect avenue for the sport.  Not surprisingly, there was a queue of people lining up to have their say on that front. For me, it was hard to choose the star of the show.  In Ben Quilty’s portrait of Margaret Olley, the big confident luscious licks of colour, show a painter at the very top of his form. Then there’s Del Kathryn Barton’s mesmerising capture of Cate Blanchett. Ahhh the glorious detail!


Being a great fan of the opera in general and Madame Butterfly in particular,  Apple Xiu Yen’s portrait of soprano Cheryl Baker titled Hearing, Meditation, was bound to stop me in my tracks.


There were at least eleven more of the works that, in my humble opinion, have star quality (you already know I’m a fan of Barbara Tyson) but I just want to make special mention of one other smaller work that had a big impact- Marcus Callum’s portrait of his partner Vanessa titled A Seated Woman. This painting is imbued with so much love and affection that I almost wanted to weep with the thought of it. Oh to be so loved!


But then, it’s more than possible that the real star of the day was Tarrrawarra Museum of Art itself.  The powers that be, in arranging the weather, certainly shone their light down on Tarrawarra, with clear blue skies and warm winter sunshine showing off the knock out building and the surrounding Yarra Valley vineyards to perfection. The interior gallery spaces are a triumph all by themselves…  add to that, the finalist’s work and they’re sublime. TWMA put on excellent food, wine and coffee for the hundreds of people fortunate enough to be there the day before the official opening. They organised teams of volunteers from the local community, Jenny Reddin and Margaret McLoughlin among them, who could barely contain their enthusiasm for the task of welcoming art lovers to arguably one of the best museum’s of art in Australia.  It’s the whole package, magnificent architecture, equally magnificent setting, it’s arts community taking delight in sharing it with the world…a star indeed!

(TWMA is experiencing an unprecedented response to this exhibition and recommend that you book on line or buy a ticket at the door, in preference to ringing them.   Their phones have been running hot.)