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‘Textile time capsule’ wins $100,000 Ramsay Art Prize


Sydney-based artist Sarah Contos has won the inaugural $100,000 Ramsay Art Prize with a colossal 21st-century quilt described by one of the judges as celebrating women “in all their glory with fireworks, sequins and PVC”.

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Titled Sarah Contos Presents: The Long Kiss Goodbye, the work was chosen from among 21 finalists in Australia’s richest prize for young contemporary artists, which was launched earlier this year by the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) and is supported by philanthropist organisation the James & Diana Ramsay Foundation.

At the announcement this morning, AGSA director Nick Mitzevich said the work was a “tour de force”, bringing together aspects of Contos’s career from the last four years.

“Previous works of art and exhibition histories are all captured in this textile time-capsule, making it a self-initiated retrospective of her life in art.”

Artworks were judge by a panel of national and international contemporary art experts, including AGSA curator of contemporary art Leigh Robb, who said: “Contos’ 21st-century quilt spills over and, like a new epic history tableaux, celebrates power women in all their glory with fireworks, sequins and PVC.”

Contos, who trained in stage and costume design as well as fine arts, works across collage sculpture and installation, drawing on themes such as popular culture, eroticism and art history.

She has described Sarah Contos Presents: The Long Kiss Goodbye  as her most ambitious work to date.

“As an artist whose process inhabits fantasy roles to reflect on female experience, I create self-generated mythologies that evoke dichotomies synonymous with being a woman,” she says in an artist’s statement accompanying the work. “This work is a ‘scrapbook’ of these contrasts and embraces their emotional value.”

As well as the prize money, Contos will have her work acquired into the gallery’s collection.

Installation view of the Ramsay Art Prize, featuring Baden Pailthorpe’s Alt-right Arabesque; Sarah Contos’s Sarah Contos Presents: The Long Kiss Goodbye; Ash Keating’s Gravity System Response #28 (Polyptych); Clare Peake’s Intermediate Pots; and Rebecca Selleck’s Lapin Plague. Photo: Saul Steed

The Ramsay Art Prize is open to Australian artists under 40, working in any material or process.

In its first year, it attracted more than 450 entries, ranging from sculpture and mixed-media installations, to painting, moving-image works and intricate works on paper.

Mitzevich has previously said the prize is designed to provide multiple benefits.

“There’s three bites of the cherry with this – 21 artists get exposure to the public, one artist gets acquired into our collection – so we add to our collection, and it’s an extraordinary life-changing encouragement to the artist that wins,” he said.

The other finalists were: Tony Albert (NSW), Khadim Ali (NSW), Jacobus Capone (WA), Celeste Chandler (VIC),  Georgina Cue (VIC), Keg de Souza (NSW), Julie Fragar (QLD), Teelah George (WA), Natalya Hughes (NSW), Trent Jansen (NSW), Ash Keating (VIC), Owen Leong (NSW), Vincent Namatjira (SA), Joey Nganjmirra (NT), Baden Pailthorpe (NSW), Clare Peake (WA), Jason Phu (NSW), Rebecca Selleck (ACT), James Tylor (SA) and Justine Varga (NSW).

Their work will be exhibited at the Art Gallery of South Australia from today until August 27.

Full caption for main image: Sarah Contos, Australia, born 1978, Sarah Contos Presents: The Long Kiss Goodbye, 2016, screen-print on linen, canvas and lamé, digital printed fabrics and various found fabrics, PVC, poly-fil, glass, ceramic and plastic beads, thread, artists’ gloves, 610 x 330 x 25 cm; Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney and STATION Gallery, Melbourne. Photo: Jessica Maurer


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