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Few standouts in this year’s Darling Portrait Prize show

This year’s winner, William Nuttal with horses in the field, 2023 by Noel McKenna

Art / Darling Portrait Prize 2024. At National Portrait Gallery. Until October 13. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

Held every two years at the National Portrait Gallery, The Darling Portrait Prize provides artists with an opportunity to delve into the ever-changing concept of Australian identity.

This year’s winner, William Nuttal with horses in the field, 2023 by Noel McKenna, is for this reviewer, underwhelming. Because it does not tell you much about the subject. Is it the Niagara Galleries director William Nuttal? I assume it is as McKenna exhibits at Niagara. But without a name in the title, it would be impossible to identify who it is.

There is an obvious connection between humans and animals in the work, but it’s not revealing. That said, McKenna’s style is elusive and appealing. It is distinctive and you can tell a McKenna work on first look. I just didn’t find it held my gaze for long.

Self Portrait on Washcloth, 2024, by Nena Salobir

The 2024 Art Handlers’ Award went to the cheeky Self Portrait on Washcloth, 2024, by Nena Salobir. In 2007, a French woman was fined for kissing a painting by Cy Twombly on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Avignon, France. She left a lipstick stain. I wondered if this incident might have been the inspiration for this work.

In what is not a strong selection of 24 works this year, not surprisingly few stand out. The ones that do own a sense of intimacy and introspection.

Vagabond #10, 2023, by Mark Tweedie

Vagabond #10 shows a young man, which could be the artist himself, sitting in a park with his back to the viewer scratching himself. It’s this sort of intimate moment that reveals a lot about people and how they are viewed by the world.

Nyadol Nyuon OAM, 2023, by Richard Butler Bowdon

Nyadol Nyuon OAM, 2023, by Richard Butler Bowdon, portrays his sitter doing nothing special. It’s the look of contemplation held by the sitter that says it all about her life as a refugee settled in Australia. She’s stoic, reflective, colourful and deeply human.

Sarah McCloskey’s Golden Hour, 2024

Sarah McCloskey’s Golden Hour, 2024, of her “dear friend” Jack, is a stunning, finely crafted work. It lets you in to the sitter’s mind and emotion. This would have been my winner.

There are many ways that portraiture can be defined and understood. In this selection it shows how it can hold a multitude of meanings to an artist. Some I got, some I didn’t. What this selection also says is how the judges view contemporary portraiture.

The connected exhibition, the 2024 National Photographic Portrait Prize, is all the things the Darling prize wasn’t.

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One Response to Few standouts in this year’s Darling Portrait Prize show

Louise Mccloskey says: 12 July 2024 at 10:57 am

“Underwhelming” to put it gently. It’s interesting to see where this year’s winning painting sits on the world portrait stage. What are we reflecting here Australia? Dated and disconnected.


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