Analysis: The wrecking of the Warrnibald

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
A stunning portrait of former art teacher Ollie Morgan, by Megan Cheyne, is among the 16 portraits vying for this year's Warrnibald prize.
A stunning portrait of former art teacher Ollie Morgan, by Megan Cheyne, is among the 16 portraits vying for this year’s Warrnibald prize (detail).

Analysis – Carol Altmann

[dropcap style=”color: #a5cecd;”] I[/dropcap]t sounds almost inconceivable, but the wonderful and extremely popular Warrnibald portrait prize has been wrecked within just 12 months of falling under the control of the Warrnambool Art Gallery.


By quietly turning it into a “prestigious” art prize where many of the local artists of all abilities and ages who entered will not have their works shown.

Indeed those works deemed not good enough have already been returned to the artists who took the time and effort to capture someone from the local community who they considered worthy of being painted.

As a result, only 16 of the original 26 entrants are on display – spread thinly across the gallery space and under ambient lighting – and in contention for the $2000 main prize and $2000 People’s Choice Award.

But it is not about missing out on the chance to win a sizeable prize donated by WDEA (Western District Employment Access) that has disappointed those artists and supporters who contacted Bluestone in disgust – it is about the spirit of the prize being ruined.

warrnibald logo

[dropcap style=”color: #a5cecd;”] A[/dropcap]s one artist said, the person she had chosen to paint was bitterly disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to take her family and friends along to see her finished portrait on the walls of the Warrnambool Art Gallery.

Another amateur artist said that she was embarrassed to have her work rejected after being encouraged to enter by a friend for the first time after being convinced it was “a lot of fun”.

To add insult to injury, those who missed out had to forfeit their $30 entry fee.


Anyone who knows the history of the prize knows that it was never meant to be a professional art prize where only the best artists get to have their work exhibited.

It was the polar opposite.

Under the control of WDEA, which runs the Artlink program for people with disabilities, anyone who wanted to “have a go” at painting the portrait of someone who they believed deserved recognition for their contribution to the local community was urged to do so.

It meant lesser known and amateur artists got to hang their work alongside some of the region’s best talents.

It also meant, even more importantly, that the “quiet heroes” of our community – neighbours, volunteers, charity workers – could be honoured alongside the higher profile people of our region.

It was a winning formula, with the Warrnibald attracting people who might not normally even visit a gallery, but would do so to see paintings of faces they might know.

matthew clarke
Matthew Clarke’s portrait of artist and art teacher, Glenn Morgan, is among the final 16 portraits chosen for display.

[dropcap style=”color: #a5cecd;”] W[/dropcap]hen WDEA passed the hosting of the prize to the Warrnambool Art Gallery, it did so with every expectation that the spirit of the prize would continue and, in 2015, it did: all 40 entries were displayed at WAG.

But this year’s prize contained a significant change in the small print of the entry form.

You can read it for yourself:

[box]This in 2015: “All entries will be accepted for inclusion in the exhibition, except in the case of there being more than 50 entries. In this instance, the Judges will determine the final selection. Artists whose work is not exhibited will have their entry fee refunded.” (emphasis added)

And this in 2016: “The final exhibition will be selected from received entries. Works are not automatically included, and entry fees are forfeited if an artwork is not selected for display.” (emphasis added) [/box]

And with that, the whole thing changed from inclusion to exclusion.

So how did this happen and who changed it?

We asked the new gallery director Vanessa Gerrans and in an emailed reply she said:

“While the Warrnibald has always had an element of fun, it also carries a certain prestige and showcases the talent within our region. With this in mind, WAG and WDEA decided to compile a shortlist for exhibition in 2016.

“Via the application form, artists submitting portraits were informed that not all works would automatically be included in the final exhibition. This is a standard format in competitive exhibitions such as the inspiration for this exhibition – the Archibald Prize.

“The passionate debate that surrounds which works are included, the selection of the winner by the guest judge and the work identified as the Peoples Choice provides great opportunity for discussion and robust expression of points of view. And ensures the relevance of this event.”

Ms Gerrans mentions that WDEA agreed to the shortlisting process, but Bluestone has been told that WDEA was stunned and angry to learn that only 16 paintings had made the cut.

Vanessa_Gerrans- small

[dropcap style=”color: #a5cecd;”] S[/dropcap]o who picked the shortlist?

“Usual curatorial processes were applied to selection,” Ms Gerrans said via email.

We can only assume that WAG curator Gareth Colliton had to be excused on the grounds of a conflict of interest, given that one of the 16 portraits selected was that by last year’s winner, the sublimely talented Madeleine Peters, who Mr Colliton now employs at his new gallery business, Wisharts, in Port Fairy.

I want to stress that this is no reflection on Madeleine’s work – it more than deserves to be there – but for Mr Colliton to exclude himself would surely be in line with normal Warrnambool City Council protocols.

The winner of the 2016 Warrnibald portrait prize, as judged by Hamilton Art Gallery director Sarah Schmidt will be announced at the Warrnambool Art Gallery tomorrow night (Friday 29/7/16).

It will be a packed house, no doubt, but to my mind the glaring blank spaces on the walls reflect the holes in the prize: the surprise, joy and communal spirit that is now missing from the Warrnibald.

Let’s hope that spirit returns next year.

[box]Bluestone is currently working subscription-free, ie. I write for nothing because I believe independent media is so important to this region, if you would like to make a contribution to keep our pulse ticking while we rebuild for 2017, you can do so here. [/box]

Stones Smile newsletterMore Opinion and Analysis:


Unravelling the mystery of public art collections

Forget cover ups and roll right over Rolf

Patloch Lane an opportunity gone begging

36 thoughts on “Analysis: The wrecking of the Warrnibald”

  1. As a newly returned resident to Warrnambool, I have had no prior experience of the Warrnibald art prize.
    From what you have described, the decision/s made by the gallery director and her curatorial group would appear to be well and truly contrary to the original and intended spirit of the competition.
    Surely, for a small city like Warrnambool, the goal should be inclusion if we believe in fostering community spirit.
    If we should reach a stage where scores of entries are submitted, then perhaps one might understand that not all entries will or could be shown as happens with the Warrnibald’s big brother, the Archibalds.
    This revelation saddens me. I expect better of Warrnambool’s artistic ‘leaders’.

    1. Hi Chris! There is no doubt Warrnambool could do with a major art prize (we have even written about this: but if the Warrnibald is going to be it, then this really should have been explained and promoted as such. To just swing a major change like this without any warning really leaves a bad taste unfortunately. I will be interested to see how many entrants from the wider community are received next year.

  2. I am hugely and sadly disappointed by this turn of events. How can I, in conscience, encourage my art students, all amateur, to believe they can really have a good go at almost anything when this sort of thing happens in a community inspired and community run event?
    I honestly believed we were going to see everyone’s work put forward for display. How does WDEA feel to see this event which grew from their wonderful inclusive Artlink Program which was specifically designed to give every person in our community the opportunity to work on the same platform as everyone else regardless of ability or connections, when instead it turns into an exclusive Artwank in which only those judged to be elite are included? How stupid to only have 16 portraits to fill the gallery as against 40 last year! What is going on in our art community?
    What a disappointment! What a devaluing of people’s effort, interest and talent! What a load of crap!
    Not a good outcome at all.

  3. I am a sad rejected one who painted a wonderful old female of 91 who has given so much to her community. Janice Trenair

  4. ———–and I haven’t picked up my painting yet. I thought at least Mary in the painting can be there tomorrow night behind the desk if not up there on the wall!

  5. Oh no! It’s not going all posh, is it?!! What a crying shame. Community spirit slashed. I wanna see the ‘rejected’ 10!

    1. Me too. It doesn’t take a lot of wall space to hang all entries. You never know! The people’s choice might not even get an airing

  6. This seems to be an example of an unfortunate trend appearing in the last few years in Warrnambool: instead of maintaining our authentic, local and relationship based values, we are desperately trying to be ‘big city’. In doing so, we lose exactly that which makes us different and appealing to the city refugees- the fact that we don’t judge on status or power or money, or even raw competition, but we let everyone have a go. Old school Aussie fairness still survives in regional places like ours, but it is definitely under threat.

    1. An ‘unfortunate trend’? You’re kidding, right? There are many amateur art competitions in Warrnambool. It’s about time WAG started striving for excellence too. Why not? Bravo WAG!

      1. Dear Kate, how narrow minded to call those not selected AMATEUR. Did you see all the entries? Maybe go back and have a real look at all the work chosen? (edited).

  7. I was one of the artists that made it through and I was shocked when my friend reported to me that there were only 15 other pieces hanging along side mine. I thought the walls would have been covered considering the numbers in previous years. I wasn’t surprised however, that entries were down from previous years. Even without the selection process, the terms and conditions didn’t exactly encourage entry.
    -$30 non-refundable fee (regardless of whether you were selected or not)
    -40% commission on sales (the highest I’ve come across elsewhere is 25%)
    -7 hour time frame, during regular working hours, for pick ups/ drop offs (and if you can’t pick up during the specified time, your work becomes property of the gallery!)
    I get quite disheartened at the lack of artistic opportunities in this area, and I was really excited for this one, but it felt as though we were actually being discouraged from entering. I don’t think I’ll be so keen to enter again next year

  8. Is there a lack of space in the gallery? Surely there would be room to hang the rejected paintings in another part of the space. Art is so subjective anyway, why not let the public have a truly informed opinion and choose from all the pieces entered for the people’s choice award at least.

    1. Wow Carol, chucked a few big ones at me….Bravo Bluestone!! I can see the Art Galleries intention. They are prestigous. It’s the artworld!!!
      At the risk of sounding resentful and I’m not….I think the blame lies fairly and squarely on WDEA’s shoulders… Poverty stricken organization simply couldn’t afford to keep offering a platform for the marginalised.
      So they chucked a beautiful thing to the wind. The closure of Artlink was heartbreaking. (note – Artlink is now based at the WDEA building in Albert St, W’bool. – Carol)
      Once again the vulnerable in our town were put out of sight. I’m not quite sure what happened with the Artery taking over….my personal opinion is they would have kept it in its original format. But they are so busy. Wag works to a meagre budget…they dont have the sort of money that WDEA does. The other 3 shows are also magnificent and the gallery has no income when “Fun for Kids” is on.
      When I worked at WDEA I was paid $24 an hour…as were some other very highly Qualified artists…Other great artists in this town worked to get the Warrnibald started. Volunteers the calibre of Claire Drylie, Des and Helen Bunyon and Melody Brisbane gave of themselves tirelessly.
      Wdea got their pound of flesh for next to nothing of us all. Upped Wdea’s profile as do gooders immensely.
      Initially the Warrnibald was created to raise money to offer scholarships to some worthy but financially. compromised people. Mainly because Claire Drylie, Des and Helen Bunyon were on our little Warrnibald Board of directors. So scholarships did go to some gifted people who quickly moved on to Tafe art department and are being nurtured to do great work. two or three schalarships happened !! Makes me wonder how much that actually cost them…my classes got bigger and the payment of this went back to WDEAs’ coffers.
      Enter OUTLAW GALLERY…Barry Tate and myself started this gallery to help artists who are just starting out and to give our special needs people a chance to show their great talent and potential. It is happening but it has been of great personal and financial cost from people who are struggling to make a living.
      What about a “Salon de Refuses” at Outlaw??? Thats what we are for….Glenn Morgan has always said thats where the best stuff is shown. Raw but refreshing art happens. I truly feel for the people who missed out but like Megan’s painting of Ollie Morgan the arms of Outlaw Gallery are open and ready to embrace and soothe those who are hurting. Lastly might I add it takes incredible courage, hard work and guts to get to the top of the ladder. Knockback after knockback. Thats the artworld is about and to get to show at wag is an honour and priveledge to get to show there.Congratulations to those who did get in….You all deserve it!! If you are not Picasso, art is the best balm to soothe the soul…Heres to difficult pleasure but dont end up like Brett Whitely, Van Gogh or Basquiat!! Never forget the Glenn Morgan Mantra…Its’ only a mongrel canvas and thanks WDEA for putting up the prize money….There are some beautiful people who work at WDEA, because hey: we all have to bring home the Bacon!! (edited)

      1. Wow, what a comprehensive history Jenny – thankyou. I guess the bottom line for me is that the Warrnibald was never set up as an art prize designed to showcase the best art and artists. If this was now the case, it could have and should have been explained to entrants and the wider community well beforehand and, I suspect, WDEA would probably not have funded it, because it no longer captured the very spirit of the prize as you have detailed above. Burying major changes in the fine print of the entrant form is not the way to go when you want to bring the community along with you! Thanks for such an honest appraisal above.

        1. There are many wonderful things about art including but not limited to emotion, release, therapy, beauty, and often controversy. The misinterpretation of the spirit of the fantastic Warrnibald/Archibool exhibition will be marked as part of the rich tapestry of its history in years to come and will be remembered well to be able to continue its important role in our arts and community landscape.
          Errors have been made and I’m sure they will be adjusted and learnt from. The WAG thought they were doing the right thing and I’m sure the message will ring loud and clear for future.
          As far as WDEA goes this is one of the most ambitious and out of left field projects the organisation ever pioneered, considering it’s corporate structure is firmly mired in employment services and constantly adapting to government bureaucracy of straight edges and hard lines then trying to adjust it to fit the people it serves. The arts were quite foreign in this landscape so to create something like this is pretty amazing. It’s a great credit to the people who were involved from the start and sure to be a lasting legacy.
          My involvement in the second year of the Warrnibald/Archibool Exhibition was one of the most extraordinarily uplifting, nerve-wracking, humbling and exciting events in my meandering career thus far. It became very clear early on that it’s driven by the people who inspire, and the artists who portray them; not by the gallery who hosts the exhibition. This can’t and I’m sure won’t be forgotten in the future.
          Congratulations to everyone who posed for and everyone who created the beautiful pieces for the exhibition whether displayed or not. Please don’t be discouraged in the future. Our world needs you. Your recognition in this issue only cements this fact.
          For all our grumbles and concerns it’s great to reflect and be proud to live in a community where we can stand up and say when we think something isn’t quite right. It’s comforting to think that we can still manage powerful and healthy debates with a level kindness and respect rather than fear and aggression. Let’s keep it that way.

          1. Well said Deon. Thanks to Bluestone for providing a forum for informed and respectful exchange of information and views.

      2. When the Warrnibald was looking for another venue, the artery spoke with Jack Melican about bringing it there and was very keen to have this event, but WAG, under John Cunningham’s directorship, was chosen as the new venue for this community exhibition.

      3. Aren’t WDEA the ones that set this up in the first place? Hardly seems fair to blame the very organisation that ran it in the spirit it was originally intended, without which it would never have existed in the first place. I’m sure they had their reasons for moving it on – it obviously was forced as the Warnibald still attracts a lot of attention, so one can only assume it was a large financial burden. Although the prize money WDEA still donates suggests that they are doing what they can to keep it afloat.

        An ex employee complaining about an organisation giving them a job in the first place sounds very jaded to me.

        I personally think the WAG need to stop being so pretentious, drop their guard and display as many entrants as possible. No wonder people stay away from these types of galleries, or at the very least feel uncomfortable entering them, with their elitist attitude toward other people’s art.

  9. Disappointing on three levels: for the artists who have missed the chance to be hung in the WAG; for the local person of note who misses out on being showcased for their contributions (why stipulate this if it ultimately carries no weight???); and the (edited) have taken charge – a person or committee that assumes it knows better than the rest of us, what constitutes good art. Sadly, I will no longer be able to recommend WAG as a gallery representing the widest variety of artistic works and artist. Thankfully the many independent, smaller galleries are doing this job for them, extremely well.

  10. What a shame! I thought it was very light-on when I ducked in to see the exhibition last weekend. All the paintings should have been exhibited. Perhaps the excluded ones should be invited to hang their artwork for us all to enjoy, after all the work they put into their portraits and they did paid an entry fee to enter the competition.

  11. I also believe the rejected artworks be given a chance to be displayed so the community can see them.
    It is disappointing to see the spirit of the Warrnibald not adhered to.

  12. I’m appalled. There are so few open exhibitions available to artists starting out or just wanting to give it a go, that the exclusion of any artwork from what this exhibition is meant to be about is stupid and unfair. The WAG should be ashamed of themselves for being so elitist in regards to THIS exhibition in particular. It’s by the people for the people. Maybe it should be taken back by the WDEA for 2017 and held elsewhere.

  13. My name is Pete Caton and my piece was deemed not good enough for the exhibition. I believe it is one of the best I have done and I’ve been rejected for the Archibald when I’ve entered a number of times a few years ago, when a little more ambitious.
    All artists know negative critique is a way of life, that I can handle if justified! I have contacted Vanessa Gerrans at the WAG a couple of times to air my displeasure and disbelief in the process when selecting this year’s final 16.
    I am ex Jamieson street primary and started at the High, having moved back here in last few years. I don’t belong to any group or are associated with people within any arts community I just love to paint .
    I have taught, lectured, run my own gallery travelled interstate and overseas for art exhibitions and commissions. I requested Vanessa to let me know why my piece wasn’t good enough. I also asked why aren’t all pieces included as a broad spectrum of the creative differences of our local artists.
    Maybe it’s time to also mirror the Archibald and support a Warrnibald “Salon de Refuses”. I believe art is an “expression” not an exclusive club.

    1. Thankyou for letting us know the financial input that artists are required to make, just to lodge an entry that might not even get aired at a public competition. (edited)

  14. The compromise of the Warrnibald was so evident when viewing the 2016 show. Excellent as the works included were, as a whole this year’s hang was anemic compared to previous years. Thanks for your vigilance Carol! Here’s to not letting the ‘Warrnibald’ come to resemble its conservative and frankly dull progenitor the Archibald – something that would be good for neither the WAG or the Warrnibald.

    1. I can only agree Bill, that the beauty of the Warrnibald is it’s diversity – the very good, the good, and the not so bad, all get to hang side by side. How joyous!

  15. Wow. It seems you owe Ms Peters an apology, Carol. Appalling journalism, suggesting the winning entrant may have been chosen due to her professional relationship with one of the curators. She is an outstanding artist. It seems to me that you’re chasing a story that just isn’t there; whipping up controversy and dividing the community. Why? WAG does amazing things for the community. I have no idea why you seem so intent on tearing them down. It seems to me that WDEA should have been clearer about what it means to hold an exhibition in a professional art space. Perhaps WAG is not the best space for such a competition. So be it. However, suggesting there has been some sort of foul play and taking cheap shots at one of Warrnambool’s most important creative institutions, is very poor behaviour indeed.

    1. I have nothing but absolute respect for Madeleine Peters as a person and for her talent. What I am talking about is a conflict of interest policy that applies right across the council irrespective of which section you might work in. I don’t consider this appalling journalism but in fact the job of journalism.

  16. “A newspaper of intelligence, of broad outlook, of independent spirit and of elegant appearance.” So again was described The Australian at its launch in 1964, and maybe humble little Bluestone fits that description too. Some few might prefer you to print only sweetness and light, but I think you’re doing a great job!

  17. I was one of the lucky ones to have my painting hung in the Warrnibald this year, but as an artist of many years, I know the disappointment of not having a painting hung. That said, the original concept of the art prize was to show paintings of artists of all abilities, and the shows at the old venue were great shows. I feel this year’s show was very ‘bland’ and 5 minutes reading all the bio’s and you’re finished.
    What great advertising for Bluestone it would be if we could get a venue, possibly a foyer of a building or an empty shop in Liebig st to display the paintings not hung this year. Do it now while the interest is still there. I will help where I can.

Comments are closed.