Narrative, language and intergenerational learning drive 2019 John Fries Award exhibition

May 8, 2019

One of Australia’s most anticipated early-career contemporary art events, the 2019 Copyright Agency John Fries Award exhibition, will open at UNSW Galleries on 21 June, when the winner of the $10,000 award will be announced.

This year’s John Fries Award exhibition, There is Fiction in the Spaces Between, brings ambitious new works by the ten finalists in painting, sculpture, and photography, video and installation.

John Fries Award 2019 Curator Miriam Kelly says, “The return to narrative in contemporary practice, particularly over the last decade, is fascinating and rich territory. This exhibition includes works that give new energy to the role of storytelling in visual art and seek to rewrite histories of division, with a view to valuing shared collective futures.

“Other key ideas that have arisen in the development of this show include the importance of intergenerational learning and exchange,” says Ms Kelly.

“For example, mother and daughter duo Betty Chimney and Raylene Walatinna, paint their large scale works together as a way of sharing time, stories and challenging each other creatively; while Nadia Hernàndez draws on the words, teachings and writings of family and friends living in Venezuela as a way of giving a personal face to the country’s extraordinary social and political crisis.”

This year’s ten finalists (in alphabetical order) are:

  1. Madison Bycroft (Marseilles, France/Adelaide, SA);
  2. Betty Chimney & Raylene Walatinna (Indulkana Community, APY Lands, SA)
  3. Dean Cross (Sydney, NSW)
  4. David Greenhalgh (Canberra, ACT);
  5. Nadia Hernàndez (Sydney, NSW);
  6. Jenna Lee (Brisbane QLD/London, UK);
  7. Hayley Millar-Baker (Melbourne, VIC);
  8. Elena Papanikolakis (Sydney, NSW);
  9. The Ryan Sisters (Pip and Natalie Ryan, Melbourne, VIC); and
  10. Justine Youssef (Sydney, NSW)

Since its inception, the coveted award has become a springboard for artists at a key moment in their career. Previous success stories include that of 2013 and 2015 finalist Vincent Namatjira, whose paintings were subsequently collected nationally and internationally, including by the British Museum.

Award winners, including Bridie Lunney and Sanne Mestrom, have similarly been supported through acquisition and selection for exhibitions at state and private institutions, while award-winner Jacob Leary was included in the 2017 Qantas Curates Initiative that saw his work featured on the airline’s Business Class resources.

Copyright Agency CEO Adam Suckling says, “The John Fries Award affords early career artists the invaluable opportunity to further develop their artistic practice, build industry networks and gain professional experience to enhance their careers. And because of its crucial role in identifying and showcasing Australia’s emerging talent, it’s a must-see exhibition for any arts enthusiast.”

The John Fries Award prize money is generously donated by the Fries family in memory of former Viscopy director and honorary treasurer John Fries, who made a remarkable contribution to the life and success of the organisation.

This milestone year also brings together a stellar line-up of new judges, including Indigenous artist Fiona Foley, UNSW Galleries Director José Da Silva, CEO of Studio A Gabrielle Mordy, as well as the award’s Patron, the artist and daughter of the late John Fries, Kath Fries, along with 2019 John Fries curator Miriam Kelly.


Title: There is Fiction in the Spaces Between: John Fries Award 2019
Winner announcement: 6pm, Friday 21 June
Where: UNSW Galleries, Cnr of Oxford St and Greens Rd, Paddington NSW
Opening hours: 10am-5pm daily, except Sunday and Monday
Final day: Saturday 27 July 2019
Cost: The exhibition is free of charge and open to the public.

NOTE: On Saturday 22 June at 10am, a number of the artists will speak about their works.

Media enquiries, images and interviews

Jane Morey
morey media
t: 02 9436 2111


The not-for-profit Copyright Agency, which merged with Viscopy on 30 November 2017, connects users and creators of content, providing licences for the use of copyright material such as fine art, text, images and survey plans. We manage the educational and government licences for the use of text and images, as well as the resale royalty scheme for artists (by Government appointment). Our members include artists, writers, surveyors and publishers. Membership is free.


The John Fries Award winner receives $10,000. The Award is non-acquisitive. Previous winners include Akil Ahamat, Kuba Dorabialski, Eric Demetriou, Ben Ward, Bridie Lunney, Jess Olivieri and Hayley Forward, Jacob Leary, Sanne Mestrom and Hannah Bertram. Previous curators have included Oliver Watts, Sebastian Goldspink, Venita Poblocki, Andrew Leslie and Consuelo Cavaniglia.


UNSW Galleries brings together the work of leading Australian and international practitioners, curators and writers working in the fields of contemporary art and design. Encompassing three principal exhibition spaces, the Galleries are a platform for examining contemporary visual and material culture through exhibitions and public programs. UNSW Galleries opened in 2014 and builds on the legacy of the former Ivan Dougherty Gallery at UNSW, which under the leadership of the late Nick Waterlow played an influential role in Australian and international contemporary art and culture.

Opening concurrently at UNSW Galleries is ‘Material Place: Reconsidering Australian Landscapes’ curated by Ellie Buttrose and ‘Debra Porch: Art should make life more interesting than art’ curated by José Da Silva. Exhibitions continue to 7 September.

For UNSW Galleries media inquiries please contact:

Kelly Doley, Deputy Director, UNSW Galleries
Ph: 0421 440 348

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