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Daniel Jenatsch wins the 2020 John Fries Award

DANIEL JENATSCH, The Close World 2021.

Artist Daniel Jenatsch has been awarded the annual 2020 John Fries Award for emerging artists by the Copyright Agency at the opening of the award exhibition at UNSW Galleries which was delayed due to the impact of COVID-19 last year. The 2020 edition of the John Fries Award marks the triumphant finale of this much-loved exhibition program.

Celebrating a milestone eleventh and final year, the long awaited 2020 John Fries Award winner announcement and exhibition is a welcome return of one of Australia’s most anticipated and important awards that showcases the most engaging and experimental works of emerging and early career visual artists across Australia and New Zealand.

Chief Executive of the Copyright Agency, Adam Suckling, says “The decision to postpone the John Fries Award and exhibition until 2021 was a difficult one but it was made to ensure a safe and inclusive platform for finalists and audiences. We are incredibly excited to able to recognise and celebrate the final piece in the legacy of this longstanding award that has been a crucial career springboard for many emerging artists.”

Daniel Jenatsch winning work is the richly layered sound and animatronics installation The Close World 2021. 

“I am really honoured to receive the John Fries award, I’ve been following the award for many years and each show has been so instructive in revealing where contemporary artistic and curatorial art’s practice is at. Every work in the current show is like it’s own world, and I’m so grateful to be supported by the John Fries Award and to share the space with so many great artists,” says Jenatsch.

Melbourne-based curator Miriam Kelly returned to curate the finalist exhibition, working closely with the artists to realise their new commissions. Shortlisted from over 400 applications and working throughout the challenges of a global pandemic, this year’s seven finalists present exciting new works that interrogate systems of knowledge and language, and use storytelling as a method of enquiry and disruption.

“The judges found Daniel Jenatsch’s conceptual and aesthetic approach well resolved and utterly compelling,” says Ms Kelly. “The work addresses complex contemporary interests in artificial intelligence and machine learning, coupled with alternatives the anthropocentric thinking that has lead to our current climate crisis. With a sophisticated balance of high technology operations and low fidelity aesthetics, this installation elicits empathy from the audience, and in doing so offers a carefully nuanced reflection on the double-edged sword of language and the desire for connection.”

The judges were also unanimous in highly commending the conceptual, contract-based work by Shevaun Wright, Dispossessed that sought to shine on the biases of many areas of the Law, as well as the manner in which it sought to engage with ideas transfer of ownership and the role of the contract in Australia’s foundation and colonialist occupation.

“As always, the selection of just one Award recipient from such a strong pool of finalists is the near impossible task of the esteemed judging panel. The panel’s discussion towards a decision was rigorous, as this final year of the Award exhibition has presented outstanding new works by each artist. The works in this exhibition showcase the strength and resilience of each artist, despite working through one of the most challenging years,” adds Ms Kelly.

“For more than a decade, the John Fries Award has recognised and supported the significant contributions of early-career practitioners to society and culture,” says Adam Suckling. “Profiling more than 120 contemporary artists since 2009 from across Australia and New Zealand, the Award has offered an important platform for the creation of new work and the development of practice at a critical time in an artist’s career. “

“The John Fries Award was established to support and shine a light on early career artists in their endeavours to grow and step up into the next stage of their art practice. The Copyright Agency is proud to be supporting an award that recognises and celebrates artistic vision and invests in Australian creativity,” adds Mr Suckling.

The winner of this year’s award was determined by a panel of guest judges including Miriam Kelly, Award curator 2019–2020; Cherine Fahd, artist and academic; Jaklyn Babington, inaugural Senior Curator of Contemporary Art Practice at the National Gallery of Australia; Stephen Gilchrist, Associate Lecturer of Indigenous Art at the University of Sydney; and Kath Fries, artist, former Viscopy board member, Chair of the John Fries Award committee and daughter of the late John Fries.

Dr Kath Fries, Artist and Founder of the John Fries Awards reflects on the legacy and success of the Award.

“Although it is sad that the John Fries Award is coming to an end, I’m proud of what we have achieved over the years. The extensive list of John Fries Award finalists seems somewhat like an extended family, artists for whom being part of the John Fries Award was an early-career springboard, from which they have gone on to bigger and better things. Congratulations to the winner and all the finalists of the last John Fries Award. My heartfelt appreciation to everyone who has been involved in the John Fries Award journey over the years.”

The 2020 John Fries Award will be exhibited from 13 March to 17 April 2021 at UNSW Galleries, located within the UNSW Art & Design campus in Paddington. The exhibition is free of charge and open to the public. For more information visit


Jane Morey
morey media
t: 02 9436 2111

Kate Pasterfield
Director Members & External Affairs
Copyright Agency
t: 02 9394 7639
m: 0437 965 071


The not-for-profit Copyright Agency connects users and creators of content, providing licences for the use of copyright material such as text, images, art 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 writers, artists, surveyors and publishers. Membership is free.


The John Fries Award winner receives $10,000. The Award is non-acquisitive. Previous winners include Justine Youssef, 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.

Image credit: Daniel Jenatsch, The Close World 2021, installation view: John Fries Award 2020, UNSW Galleries, Sydney. Courtesy of the artist and UNSW Galleries.