I'm a Melbourne girl, born and bred, and new resident of Geelong. Fantabulous adventures await as I explore my gorgeous new city and the stunning Surf Coast. But don’t worry—I’ll be crossing the bridge regularly to get my Melbourne fix.
Australia's most prestigious art prize comes to Ballarat
The Archibald Prize is Australia's prestigious art prize for portraiture, and has been awarded annually since 1921. The prize is named for JF Archibald, a journalist who founded the Bulletin magazine, and who also had a keen interest in the arts. He was passionate about promoting the work of young Australian artists, serving as a trustee of the Art Gallery of NSW, and he bequeathed money in his will for an annual prize for portraiture 'preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia' (Art Gallery of NSW website).
The prize is still judged by the trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW, and this year's winner was Judo house pt 6 (the white bird), painted by Nigel Milsom. And in its only showing outside of NSW, the Archibald Prize 2015 exhibition will be on show at the Art Gallery of Ballarat until 15 November, before moving on to the New England Regional Art Museum in Armidale, New South Wales.
The Archibald Prize 2015 will be on show in the historic regional city of Ballarat until 15 November - so be quick!
The Archibald Prize 2015 exhibition features Milsom's winning portrait, a black and white oil painting of barrister Charles Waterstreet, who Milsom has known his entire life. The winner of the People's Choice 2015 award was Bruno Jean Grasswill, for his oil on canvas painting of Australian actor Michael Caton, and it too is on display at the exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ballarat, as well as all 47 finalists who were in the running for this year's prize.
The Art Gallery of Ballarat is housed in a stunning mixture of architecture, blending the grand old building that faces on to Lydiard Street, with the striking modern addition at the rear. The main entry to the Archibald Prize 2015 exhibition is through the back entrance, which is on Camp Street, but I urge you to start from the front at Lydiard Street, and spend a few moments admiring the beauty of some of Ballarat's oldest and finest buildings.
Make sure you enter from Lydiard Street so you can marvel at the beautiful old buildings.
A cobblestone laneway takes you around to the rear of the old building, where the grand old architecture morphs into the contemporary. The funky Pickles Bar, a pop-up café and bar operating from a shipping container throughout the exhibition, is set up in the grass and concrete area just outside the entrance to the gallery. Pull up a chair (or milk crate), grab a coffee and soak up the relaxed vibe as your wandering gaze takes in the modern glass doors and windows of the gallery, juxtaposed against the deep red bricks of the century-old neighbouring buildings.
The entrance to the exhibition takes you through the foyer and ticket counter resplendent in the shocking pink of the exhibition's branding, contrasting with the grandeur of the sweeping staircase at the front of the gallery, which leads up to the permanent exhibitions. Once you've purchased your tickets (which can also be purchased online), friendly gallery staff in pink aprons will usher you into the exhibition and leave you to feast your eyes on Australia's best portraits of 2015.
The Art Gallery of Ballarat is all dressed up in hot pink.
Each portrait is different—some are stunningly beautiful, some striking, some, well, rather interesting to say the least. But each has a story to tell, and exhibition guidebooks are available to tell you about each one. A short history is also printed next to each portrait, some even with special notations for children, perhaps asking a question for them to ponder, or to undertake a small task to immerse their curious minds into the world of art (the Archibald Prize 2015 exhibition is not just for adults—there are a number of programs for children and families operating throughout the exhibition. Check out the Art Gallery of Ballarat's Archibald Prize 2015's website for more details).
You can spend as long or as little as you like wandering around the portraits, and even for someone who wouldn't necessarily call themselves an art lover, I found I was drawn to so many paintings, each one so different from the next. Some of the portraits were obvious as to who they were, but others not so much. Who were they? Who was the artist? Why did they decide to paint their particular subject? What was the meaning behind each painting? It's almost like you are delving into peoples' private lives, some paintings so raw and uncensored, some a little more forced, but each one incredibly intricate and worthy of making it to the finalist stage of this prestigious prize.
The crowds were of course the largest around the winning portrait.
The exit to the exhibition brings you out into the main gallery, where you can explore the permanent exhibitions (of which entry is free), stop in at the gallery gift shop, or take some time for tea and cake in The Salon, the gallery's rather classy, rather refined café, set just under the beautiful staircase (you might also find yourself daydreaming of times gone by, and imagining yourself gliding down that staircase, long dress and petticoats swooshing over the heavy steps, one elbow-length gloved arm sliding lightly over the smooth wooden bannister…or perhaps that was just me?).
That beautiful staircase...how many pairs of feet have traversed these steps over the last 100 years?
Ballarat is an easy 90-minute drive from the heart of Melbourne, and even less if you hail from the west. If you can make it on a weekday, you'll avoid the crowds, and with any luck, some gorgeous weather will be bestowed upon you, making Ballarat shine in all its spring glory. Check out the cafes and shops along Sturt Street, admire the gorgeous trees overhanging the glorious old buildings, and if you have time, take a stroll around the stunning Lake Wendouree and watch the black swans stalk the picnickers for remnants of sandwiches and anything else they can get their beaks on. For those who may wish to take a more leisurely mode of transport, take the V/Line train from Southern Cross station, directly into the heart of Ballarat. With Ballarat station just a 250m walk away from the gallery, it's the easiest way to see the show (and affords you the opportunity to have a little snooze on the way home).
Spend some time wandering around the beautiful streets of this historical city.
The Archibald Prize 2015 at the Art Gallery of Victoria also encompasses a host of other events throughout the exhibition within the beautiful city of Ballarat, celebrating the significance of the exhibition's only Victorian showing. This includes Tuck Truck Tuesdays at Pickles Bar (with the gallery open late), seminars, fundraising galas, talks and discussions, gallery tours and cocktail parties. Some require additional tickets, and with time running out, check out the website to see what takes your fancy in this art-inspired festival of events throughout October and November.
There are numerous other events happening around Ballarat to celebrate the Archibald Prize 2015 exhibition - check out the website for details of what's happening in the last couple of weeks of the exhibition.
The Art Gallery of Ballarat is rightly proud to be able to host the Archibald Prize 2015 exhibition, and if you have a day to spare, why not take a trip to this beautiful city and be a part of this special event. And in this city steeped in history, you'll too become a small part of some history in the making—who knows when the Archibald prize may visit Ballarat again!