Arts / Maude and the high-flying art of picking a winner

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce dominates “The Circus”, a comment by Val Johnson on last year’s parliamentary citizenship debacle.

AUSTRALIA’S most artistic sulphur-crested cockatoo, Maude, is preening herself in rural Coolac, NSW, as she prepares to assess the notorious Bald Archy Prize, which opens at Watson Arts Centre this week.

According to the founder of the Archys, Peter Batey, the awards are now in their 25th year and these days Maude prefers to waft around in the gum trees and descend once a day to carry out her judging duties.

The aim will be to fly in the faces of more respectable art prizes such as the Archibald in a competition that singles out the ridiculous aspects of Australia’s high fliers.

Politician Cory Bernardi cast as “Mr White” in Murray Grellis’ Bald Archy entry.

We’ll have to wait until later in the year to hear who’s won, but suffice it to say that the cream of Australia’s satirical portraitists have entered work in the show that pokes fun at our politicians, media stars, sports personalities and artists, as in satirist Dave Ross’s cheeky impression of “Pitch Perfect” star Rebel Wilson, who successfully sued Bauer Media for defamation in Melbourne’s Victorian Supreme Court.

Batey told “CityNews”: “It looks like a record number of entries this year coming from as far afield as WA and the NT, with around half a dozen previous winners entering – that’s fairly rare.”

He has good cause to exult. He and Maude have struggled to raise the prize money over the years, but in 2018 for the first time, they’ve received sponsorship from the Sydney Brewery, which provides first and second cash prizes.

The sponsorship was offered after Batey wrote to millionaire plastic surgeon and hotelier Jerry Schwartz, once the subject of a Bald Archy entry, who immediately and to his astonishment, responded with the offer.

Batey confided to Schwartz that he was having trouble with venues in Sydney and was offered a space at the recently opened Sofitel Darling Harbour Hotel, where the winner will be announced on March 20.

Schwartz owns a number of hotels around Australia and the deal has also opened the doors to new exhibition venues in Sydney, Melbourne, Newcastle and Leura.

It’s been 20 years since the Archy has been exhibited in Melbourne, “because of the arts snobs there,” Batey says, and it’s never been to Newcastle, home to two Archy winners.

Although he was also offered a new location in the ACT, Batey says Watson Arts Centre has been so helpful in selecting and hanging the show that he preferred to stay there.

This year’s Bald Archy will travel to 10 venues over a period of 10 months.

As if this weren’t enough, The Museum of the Riverina in Wagga Wagga has this week opened a retrospective called “Best of the Bald Archy,” running until mid-May.

And Maude? Reportedly over the moon about the sponsorship, she says, Batey assures us: “Judging is always hot work… a couple of schooners of Paddo Pale will be just the thing to see me through the task of choosing the finalists.”

The 25th Bald Archy Prize, Watson Arts Centre, 1 Aspinall Street, Watson, 10am-4pm daily, until March 12.

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