John Fries Award 2020 finalists announced

February 4, 2020

The Copyright Agency has announced the finalists for one of Australia’s most highly anticipated awards for early career artists, the John Fries Award 2020.

The John Fries Award is a $10,000 non-acquisitive award recognising the talents of early career visual artists from Australia and New Zealand. For the second consecutive year, respected Melbourne-based visual arts curator Miriam Kelly will curate the award with the winner to be announced at UNSW Galleries on 25 September, 2020.

This year’s finalists are:

  • Darcey Bella Arnold, Melbourne, Vic – painting
  • Daniel Jenatsch, Melbourne, Vic – sound, video, installation
  • Sara Morawetz, Sydney, NSW/New York, USA – performance, video, installation
  • Ryan Presley, Brisbane, QLD – painting, drawing, performance
  • JD Reforma, Sydney, NSW – video, installation
  • Melanie Jame Wolf, Melbourne, Vic/Berlin, Germany – performance, sound, video, installation
  • Shevaun Wright, Melbourne, Vic/Los Angeles, USA – installation

Copyright Agency CEO Adam Suckling says: “The John Fries Award is an award that champions Australian contemporary art culture like no other. Being nominated as finalists validates the work of these young and inspiring artists and importantly, provides mentoring and financial support that allows them the time and space to create.

“The Award is widely recognised for its role in supporting artists as well as enriching Australia’s cultural life and community. It is now in its 11th and final year, having created a formidable legacy highlighting pioneering Australian works and unearthing talent, in a way that will continue to leave an indelible mark on our nation’s cultural landscape,” adds Mr Suckling.

This year, finalists were drawn from almost 400 applications representing a cross-section of early career artists. “This award is so exciting because it offers early career artists the opportunity to showcase their vision, and provides audiences an insight into the diverse emerging talent we have in Australia and New Zealand,” Mr Suckling says.

Curator Miriam Kelly says: “As we have come to enjoy and expect from the John Fries Award over the past 11 years, some artists on this list are known by many, while others may be new to our audiences. This year’s strong finalists are distinct and as always, the prize showcases a broad spectrum of practice. This year, the finalist exhibition draws together artists whose richly conceptual approaches engage with systems of language, power and the construction of histories with sharp and critical wit.”

Melanie Jame Wolf, Parade : Parade (2019). 2 channel HD video, 16:9, colour, sound, 3 minutes 45 seconds. Courtesy of the artist, photography by Ashton Green and Melanie Jame Wolf.

Daniel JenatschSara Morawetz and Melanie Jame Wolf have all exhibited performance and multimedia works throughout Australia and internationally; Darcey Bella Arnold and Ryan Presley engage with the poetics and politics of space and labour in painting; JD Reforma and Shevaun Wright use humour in their sampling and re-composition of texts from our everyday to consider the construction of power relations and suppression of histories.

The winner of the award will be announced on 25 September 2020 at the UNSW Galleries, kicking off a month-long exhibition from 25 September to 21 November.

The John Fries Award 2020 winner will be determined by a panel of guest judges: Dr Cherine Fahd, director of photography at University of Technology Sydney; Jaklyn Babington, senior curator of Contemporary Art Practice at the National Gallery of Australia; Stephen Gilchrist, Indigenous writer, curator and associate lecturer of Indigenous Art at the University of Sydney; and Dr Kath Fries, artist, former board member of Viscopy and daughter of the late John Fries. The seven finalists were collectively chosen by the guest judges, with the Award’s curator Miriam Kelly shortlisting a top 17 from the almost 400 applicants.

The Fries family established the award in 2010 in memory of former Viscopy director and honorary treasurer John Fries, who made a remarkable contribution to the life and success of the organisation.

Exhibition details

The 2020 John Fries Award will be exhibited from 25 September to 21 November 2020 at UNSW Galleries, found within the UNSW Art & Design Sydney campus. The public event is free-of-charge. For more information visit

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t: 02 9929 9922

About Copyright Agency

The Copyright Agency is a not-for-profit organisation, specialising in the protection of original ideas, as well as helping creators maintain control over how their content is used. The Copyright Agency is passionate about supporting the expression of art, which is why it also provides grants and fellowships through its Cultural Fund.

About the John Fries Award

The John Fries Award is dedicated to helping Australian and New Zealander artists in their early careers. The winner receives the non-acquisitive award of $10,000. Previous winners in reverse chronological order from 2019 are Justine Youssef, Akil Ahamat, Kuba Dorabialski, Eric Demetriou, Ben Ward, Bridie Lunney, Jess Olivieri and Hayley Forward, Jacob Leary, Sannée Mestrom and Hannah Bertram. This is the 11th and final year of the John Fries award.

Originally published 4 December 2019.

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