(Above: Vincent Fantauzzo's portrait of Brandon Walters, winner of the people's choice prize at this year's Archibalds).
We don't often stray into the field of the y'arts, as loon pond is fiercely dedicated to politics (with a dash of climate change for spice).
But the temptation to induct Andrew Frost into the hall of loon pond fame is irresistible, if only for the way he dances on the head of a pin while discussing the people's choice prize in the Archibalds, given to Vincent Fantauzzo for his portrait of Brandon, star of Baz Lurhmann's film Australia. (Painting has all the hallmarks of a sure-fire hit).
Frost clearly doesn't like the work, but he doesn't know how to say it:
... trying to work out the reasons the public chooses one work over all the others is as perplexing as trying to understand why the gallery trustees choose another. As seasoned Archibald watchers understand, no one really knows. It is in the stars.
Could it be that pigs prefer swill? Well no, let's not go there. Let's dance around it a little more.
Perhaps Fantauzzo wanted to capture the same vote that landed Craig Ruddy the main prize and the people's choice for his portrait of David Gulpilil in 2004. Who knows, but such speculation is beside the point. The vote is a chance for the public to commune with widely held values such as pride of country and people, the victory of native innocence over worldly cynicism, a belief in dignity and self-determination. These are all fine and noble values and there is nothing wrong with restating basic principles through a popular vote. That is democracy. The problem is whether these values are really in the work.
Huh? Say what? Art by democracy? The hunt for fine and noble values in a work?
As a confluence of circumstances, Fantauzzo should receive a special award for a canny choice for his portrait. Say what he might about the boy's bubbly personality, or his skill as an actor, or director Baz Luhrmann's dubious claims to his otherworldly spirituality, you cannot knock a battler.
Well actually Andrew knocking a painting is not quite the same as knocking the subject, even a nice battler.
Go on Andrew, say it. Like Luhrmann's bloated, sentimental monstrosity, Fantauzzo's work is a bloated piece of seductive nonsense, a hideous photo realist exercise trading off on its subject matter, better suited to an advertising campaign for the film than an art gallery. It's painted in a style that was fashionable in the seventies, and then revived in the nineties, but now in this context has all the charm and relevance of either pissing on the canvas or using an air brush. There is absolutely nothing beneath the surface of the work, as it delivers entirely on its chosen banal surface level of sentimentality, with an in your face, hammer-headed lack of subtlety and nuance. Even the delivery of the shadows is like a poorly placed cutter by a DOP dedicated to memories of film noir.
There now, doesn't that feel better? No need to rabbit on about it being replete with all the hallmarks that would make it a sure-fire hit with the public, or call it a demonstration of "a level of technical skill that most people associate with real art", or hinting it's not so bad because in an Archibald year dominated by ostentatiously big canvases "its scale seems almost modest by comparison."
Err Andrew, scale has got bugger all to do with it, at least if you want to discuss whether it works as a piece and whether or no it has a sentimental backstory courtesy of Brandon Walters' life story.
Funny how the young turks, when they get a taste for exposure on the ABC and a page 3 picture story in The Sydney Morning Herald, turn into Esteemed Critics, having spent their time out of the sun sending up rotten Esteemed Critics like John McDonald and Sebastian Smee. Just a pity, and something of an irony, that as esteemed critics they seem incapable of saying anything sensible, or short of that, at least saying what they think.
And next time Andrew Frost makes a set of superficial, derisory comments with all the punch and insight of a blanc mange, can he please ask the editor of the SMH not to label it as comment?
I've had more incisive comments from Aunt Mabel, who at least knows what she likes, and knows what she doesn't like, and isn't afraid to say it. And she doesn't need the stars or her star sign to work it out.
Okay, so it's put up or shut up time. You want to know a work I like? Well here, try this one, which you can in fact pick up on black velvet from better quality stores specializing in fine art merchandise:
I keed, I keed. But all that talk of pissing on the canvas suddenly reminded me of an old favorite, Eric Fischl. Below is a work called Sleepwalker, but you can catch a lot more at his site www.ericfischl.com)