Buyer’s Guide: Eye on the Prize

Camilla Wagstaff examines the many ways art prizes can provide a smart starting point for building or enriching a great art collection.

Be it to further the work of female artists, prioritise portraiture, support sculptors, or endorse emerging practice, art prizes recognise and celebrate skilled artists across a host of mediums, ages and career stages. For an artist, winning a prize means more exposure, more opportunity, and more freedom to further their practice.

But art prizes are also a reason for art buyers to celebrate. A reputable art prize represents a rigorously chosen and curated suite of work from which to collect a standout piece.

“The work has already been selected by a group of individuals with experience in the field,” says Lisa Slade, Assistant Director at the Art Gallery of South Australia. “This means it has already been deemed to have achieved a certain level of material and conceptual rigour or resolution and already possesses a capacity to speak to audiences. These are critical ingredients in what makes a work of art successful.”

“Art prizes are essentially a celebration of achievement,” adds Joanna Strumpf and Ursula Sullivan of Sullivan+Strumpf gallery in Sydney, Melbourne and Singapore. “They gather recognition, curiosity, and prestige to an artist’s practice. All these things add cultural value to the work, enhancing our experience and the significance of what it means to collect that work.”

Certain prizes are also a great way to familiarise yourself with emerging artists and artists who do not have commercial gallery representation, notes curator, art consultant and Exhibitions Officer at the Mosman Art Gallery, Althea Kuzman. “You gain exposure to a wide range of artists and their varying practices. It gives breadth and range, so you can spot a particular artistic style that appeals to you. It is also a fantastic chance to support the artist if they didn’t win a major prize!”

/ A reputable art prize represents a rigorously chosen and curated suite of work from which to collect a standout piece. /

There is a smorgasbord of art prizes to consider in Australia and New Zealand, and some are more reputable than others. So how do you spot a serious prize?

Several elements point to credibility, notes Andy Dinan director of MARS Gallery in Melbourne. “Look for a serious panel of judges – a minimum of two – including a senior artist and a highly credible art critic or curator with institutional experience,” she suggests.

Consider the longevity of the prize, the prize amount and the past winners, adds Kuzman. “For example, the Mosman Art Prize is currently in its 77th year, and its previous winners form a memorable roll call: Margaret Olley, Guy Warren, Elisabeth Cummings, and Cressida Campbell, to name a few.”

If you fall in love with a particular artwork, Slade encourages buyers to first do their due diligence by looking at other examples of the artist’s practice. “Most importantly, experience the art prize exhibition and spend time with the work if you can,” she says.

If you’re ready to splash some cash, it’s best practice to approach the artist’s commercial gallery first, if they are represented. Most art prizes do not play any part in the negotiation and acquisition process but will include a reference to the artist’s representation on their website and/or the gallery wall. If an artist is unrepresented, the prize may help connect buyer and artist.

The availability of a work in any prize also depends on whether that prize is acquisitive. This means that as part of the awards process, the institution acquires the work for their own collection, so it can’t become a part of yours. That said, if a particular work is not available, the same artist will likely have comparable works for sale. In this respect, you can think of an art prize as a springboard into a deeper and more meaningful engagement with a particular artist’s oeuvre.

If the artist is represented, Sullivan+Strumpf note that their commercial gallery will be at the ready to guide interested buyers through the process, and to introduce them to the artist’s practice beyond the work entered into the prize.


The Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes: A suite of prizes held annually at the Art Gallery of New South Wales recognising the best in portraiture, landscape and subject painting.

The Art Edit Self-Represented Artist Award: Recognising artists that are not commercially represented, this annual award has seen winning and finalist artists gain recognition from industry leaders and contemporary art collectors.

The churchie emerging art prize: Australia’s longest running prize for emerging artists, the churchie has acted as a launchpad for many significant artists across its 40-year lifespan.

The Darling Portrait Prize: A biennial prize for Australian portrait painting which honours the legacy of L Gordon Darling, founding patron of the National Portrait Gallery of Australia.

The Mosman Art Prize: The longest running and most prestigious municipal painting prize in the country. It was founded by the artist, architect and arts advocate, Alderman Allan Gamble.

The Paul Guest Prize: A biennial, non-acquisitive prize and exhibition highlighting contemporary drawing practice held at the Bendigo Art Gallery.

The Ramsay Art Prize: Staged at the Art Gallery of South Australia and celebrating new work across any medium, this prize supports younger artists under 40.

The Ravenswood Australian Women’s Art Prize: The highest value art prize for women artists in Australia. The prize provides a unique platform to engage, connect, support and profile women artists across Australia and abroad.

The Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA): Australia’s longest running and richest First Nations art awards. The NATSIAA demonstrates the richness and diversity of contemporary Indigenous artistic practice.

Find more art prizes:

Above: Installation view of the Ramsay Art Prize 2023, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. Photo: Saul Steed. Courtesy: Art Gallery of South Australia.

More Buyers Guides from Recent issues

Buyer’s Guide: Eye on the Prize

Camilla Wagstaff examines the many ways art prizes can provide a smart starting point for building or enriching a great art collection.

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