IN the 1950s and 1960s Muswellbrook Shire Council and its art gallery thrilled, shocked and appalled the community with its art acquisitions.
Now Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre wants the community to choose a favourite in the first People’s Choice award as part of its Muswellbrook Open Art Prize program.
The Newcastle Herald and Muswellbrook Chronicle invite readers to vote for their favourite of 31 finalists for the 2017 award – to be announced on March 11.
The winning artist will receive $1000.
If you vote and leave a comment at the bottom of the page, or on the Facebook post, about who you voted for and why, you will go in the running for a collection of Greg Ray Hunter region history books valued at $160.
There are more than 700 entries in this year’s Muswellbrook Open Art Prize, vying for $50,000 in prize money.
It is nearly 60 years since the first Muswellbrook Open Art Prize winner, Thomas Gleghorn’s abstract painting Death of Voss, prompted “celebration and consternation” when it was announced in 1958.
In 1964 there was shock, but also celebration, when Muswellbrook Shire Council bought Fred Williams’s Sherbrooke Forest, which was dubbed “Paling Fence” by some locals, but which is now valued at $1 million.
The $50,000 Muswellbrook prize – the equal largest regional art award in Australia – offers the state’s second highest prize money behind the Archibald's $100,000 winner’s purse.
It is on par with Newcastle Art Gallery's Kilgour Prize for figurative and portraiture painting.
The highest art prize offered in Australia remains the $150,000 Moran prize.
A new $1000 People’s Choice award, sponsored by Muswellbrook Shire Council, the Newcastle Herald and the Muswellbrook Chronicle – with voting below – recognises increasing public interest in Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre, and a collection that includes an extraordinary 300 works of art donated in 2004 by Hunter artist Max Watters.
“The Muswellbrook Art Prize has quietly grown since 1958 to become one of the Hunter’s premier art prizes. It is now a key event in the calendar of Australian contemporary art,” Muswellbrook Council art spokesman Jason Foy said.
“The $50,000 acquisitive open art prize has also allowed the arts centre to become one of the hidden treasures of the Hunter, with a permanent collection which includes works of almost every well known Australian artist since 1958.
“Council is delighted to have the support of the Herald and the Chronicle, with the introduction of the People’s Choice award for the first time. People with a love for art are encouraged to vote for their favourite piece and to visit Muswellbrook to enjoy the exhibition of the finalists’ work.”
Muswellbrook mayor Martin Rush said contemporary artistic expression was “critical to our Australian identity and many works in the gallery's collection engage in the political or moral issues of the day”.
“The collection is also an excellent resource for students of the arts across the valley and a significant visitor asset for the Muswellbrook economy.”
Muswellbrook’s Bengalla Mining Company has continued the art prize sponsorship it established in 1987.
The Muswellbrook Art Prize was proposed by businessman Ken Cheatle with the aim of playing “a part, however modest, in the promotion of art and the encouragement of artists generally throughout Australia”.
Prize winners will be announced at the exhibition opening on March 11.
The Upper Hunter prize attracted more than 700 entries with a pool of $71,000 in prizes.
Adjudicator Professor Ian Howard will present the three main awards: the $50,000 Painting Prize, $10,000 Works on Paper and the $10,000 Ceramics prize.
All three will be unveiled at the exhibition's March 11 opening.
But you can cast a ballot on the fourth award, the $1000 People's Choice Prize. If you also leave a comment at the bottom of the page, or on the Facebook post, about who you voted for and why, you will go in the running for a collection of Greg Ray books valued at $160.