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Curators and art professionals make their way to Ballarat

Brooke Boland

This prize offers an exciting snapshot of what is happening in contemporary art in Australia – and people are noticing.
Curators and art professionals make their way to Ballarat

Abdul Abdullah, Restitution (of self), 2015 digital print 100 x 100cm each. Courtesy of the artist and Fehily Contemporary.

We can easily recognise and even admire the formula behind the regional blockbuster exhibition. But despite sometimes limited space and modest budgets, smaller regional galleries are proving they can attract city audiences too.

The Post Office Gallery in Ballarat has found a way to draw a niche city crowd through the biennial Guirguis New Art Prize (GNAP), worth $20,000 and now in its third year.

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Administered by Federation University Australia’s Arts Academy, and presented in association with the Art Gallery of Ballarat (AGB), the 2017 exhibition will be presented at the two gallery sites – FedUni’s Post Office Gallery and the AGB.

Read: An art prize with an exclusive pitch

Shelley Hinton, Curator of Post Office Gallery, Ballarat and curator of GNAP said that while a blockbuster will gain huge publicity through a general audience, this prize brings in a specific arts audience.

‘An exhibition of this type, it will draw some of those people of a general nature, but it will also draw a lot of professionals and artists – which is terrific and is what we want, as well as the artists who appreciate their recognition as well.’

Erin Coates. Still from Driving to the Ends of the Earth, 2016 video Installation, approx. 2mtr - 3.5 mtrs width. A new work developed for GNAP.

Thanks to the curatorial process that underlies the shortlisting of GNAP – where key contemporary curators from select public galleries across Australia recommend artists for the prize – curators and other industry professionals travel interstate or from outlying Melbourne just to view the exhibition. 

‘City audiences are often aware of the exhibiting artists already, as are the recommending galleries from all over Australia. GNAP brings them to the region because they want to see the new work being presented by artists who are well known or are becoming well known. Other artists and arts professionals are all keen to see what is happening in contemporary art – that’s why it attracts city audiences as well as the local audience,’ said Hinton.

‘This year we have an artist from Daylesford. Her work will draw a lot of attention because when an artist is local, there are a lot of people in the region who are interested. Her work sits amongst artists who are nationally and internationally recognised.’

Hinton said the attraction for artists and audiences alike also lies in the openness of the prize, which results in a diverse exhibition. 

‘The prize really is open to all possibilities and we have such a beautiful eclectic mix of work that is so engaging and interesting for the viewer. Even if it is quite challenging work, it is fascinating and intriguing work and, in some cases, the work addresses political and social issues. So there is a lot to think about when viewing the exhibition.’

‘Some of these artists are quite advanced in their practice, whereas one is not long out of art school, so it really does allow for emerging artists to enter. We don’t restrict or hold it to an age limit,’ she continued.

Natasha Johns-Messenger. Wallthrough, 2016 plywood, mirror 180 x 150 x 75cm. Photo: Jeremy Weihrauch (left) and (right) Christian Capurro. Courtesy of the artist.

‘The prize takes that shift to new ground. You do end up with work that is so diverse and is pushing the boundaries and challenging us as viewers.’ 

The 2017 GNAP finalists

Abdul Abdullah

Jumaadi

Joel Arthur

Peter Vandermark

Julia McInerney

Julia Robinson

Brian Robinson

Erin Coates

Alistair Rowe

Esther Stewart

Carly Fischer

Natasha Johns-Messenger

Yhonnie Scarce

DAMP (Narelle Desmond, Deb Kunda, Sharon Goodwin & James Lynch) 

The GNAP17 winner will be announced on Friday 24 March at the Art Gallery of Ballarat. Visit federation.edu.au for details.

About the author

Brooke Boland is a Melbourne-based freelance writer. She recently completed her PhD on gender, translation and women's writing and has tutored undergraduates at Victoria University and the University of NSW.

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