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Getting a Literal Bird’s-Eye View

March 9, 2022
A sulphur-crested cockatoo

A cockatoo (not Maude)

If a badger can get credit as an archaeologist, a cockatoo can undoubtedly be a judge in an art contest, right? Well, one art competition in Australia certainly thinks so. The Archibald Prize is awarded by the Art Museum of New South Wales for the best in Australian portraiture and is considered one of Australia’s most prestigious art prizes. Some of the country’s greatest artists, like Brett Whiteley and John Longstaff, have won the Archibald. Last year, it celebrated its hundredth anniversary with Peter Wegner’s Portrait of Guy Warren at 100 receiving the accolade. Of course, the perceived elitism and stuffiness of the arts establishment receives its fair share of criticism and mockery, and the Archibald Prize is no exception. That’s why every year since 1994, a parody competition called the Bald Archy prize is held for Australia’s most vulgar and humorous artworks. While art contests are normally judged by a panel of human experts, the Bald Archy’s primary judge is a cockatoo named Maude.

Theater director Peter Batey started the Bald Archy prize to poke fun at Australia’s arts establishment, and has since become Australia’s top event for satire in the arts. Since 2005, the Museum of the Riverina has hosted the contest in the small city of Wagga Wagga in New South Wales. While Batey died in a car accident in 2019, his pet cockatoo, Maude, has always been the only judge. According to the prize website, Maude is “the world’s premier avian art critic”. The entries are typically caricature portraits, mainly of Australian celebrities like Geoffrey Rush, Rupert Murdoch, and Julian Assange. After a pandemic hiatus, the Bald Archy award will return in 2023. And I’m sure Maude will make an excellent choice, as she always has. Honestly, I’m sure her selection would be just as valid as that handed down by the panel of expert judges that awards the Archibald Prize. We’ll see.