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Sydney Morning Herald Column | John McDonald

Sydney Morning Herald Column

Head On Photo Festival 2018

May 18, 2018
Beautiful Guantanamo Bay.. Debi Cornwall's 'Welcome to Camp America'

Head On is still not getting the attention it deserves. We make a big fuss about the Sydney Biennale, we go wild for Vivid, we swarm over the Sydney foreshores during Sculpture by the Sea, but after ten years the Head On Photo Festival survives on a fraction of the resources devoted to other events. … More


The Archibald Prize 2018

May 11, 2018
And the winner is.... Yvette Coppersmith's 'Self-portrait after George Lambert'. Don't ask me why.

Well I got it completely wrong this year, although Vincent Namatjira got a “highly commended” as runner-up. Yvette Coppersmith’s Archibald Prize winner: Self-portrait after George Lambert wouldn’t have been in my top 20. After due consideration, it still wouldn’t be in my top 20. It seems to me like a stiff, mannered picture that bears … More


Colony

May 4, 2018
Augustus Earle, 'Portrait of Bungaree, a native of New South Wales', c.1826

If I seem to be constantly writing in praise of the National Gallery of Victoria this isn’t because the grass is always greener interstate. It’s because the NGV has been attending so well to the fundamental business of what a gallery should be doing. Arguably the most important task is to provide a vibrant program … More


Colours of Impressionism

April 26, 2018
Claude Monet, 'The Magpie' (1868-69)

Impressionism is probably the most popular art movement of all time – which would have been a surprise to those who participated in the first ‘Impressionist’ salon of 1874. The group was actually called Le Société anonyme des artistes, peintres, sculpteurs et graveurs, and included no fewer than 30 artists. The term “Impressionism” was drawn … More


The Lady and the Unicorn

April 20, 2018
'Mon Seul Desire'

Towards the end of Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll stages a furious battle between a lion and a unicorn. The fight is based on an old nursery rhyme, which plays on the Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom, in which the lion stands for England, the unicorn for Scotland. The lion and … More


Wonderland

April 12, 2018
The Mad Hatter's Tea Party. The John Tenniel illustration of 1865

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is the very definition of a classic. On first publication in 1865 it did for children’s books what Don Quixote had done for romances of chivalry: making a mockery of their pompous, moralising tone; using wilful nonsense to expose the unwitting variety. The author, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-98) was an Oxford … More


Art Basel Hong Kong 2018

April 6, 2018
Jeff Koons gives Hong Kong the bird, at Zwirner's

“Oh my God, is that Wolfgang Tillmans? I just saw Jeff Koons! Look! It’s Olafur Eliasson!” In what Art Basel Hong Kong quaintly refers to as its “6th Edition”, the mania for celebrity-spotting reached new heights. I wish I could say these artists are idolised because of the superb quality of their work, but – … More


Sydney Biennale 2018 Part 2

March 30, 2018
Miriam Cahn, 'bau, 18.5.16'

Is it only me, or is there something intrinsically boring about art projects that involve community participation? I know there is a strand of thought in contemporary art that loathes the very idea of the master artist or the individual genius, believing every human being should be encouraged to harness his or her innate creativity. … More


Sydney Biennale 2018 Part 1

March 23, 2018
Ai Weiwei's 'Law of the Journey' dominates the Biennale

Few artists have dominated a Sydney Biennale as comprehensively as Ai Weiwei with his contributions to this year’s show. It’s partly because hardly any of the 70 chosen artists, or groups of artists, have a public profile in Australia, while Ai is an international art celebrity and media magnet. Two years ago the National Gallery … More


Giorgio de Chirico: Major works from the Collection of Francesco Federico Cerruti

March 16, 2018
Giorgio de Chirico, 'The Metaphysical Muses' (1918)

Giorgio de Chirico had an irrascible reputation but never lacked self-confidence. Although recognised as one of great modern artists, de Chirico (1888-1978) was a vehement opponent of Modernism. In his eyes, Cézanne, Matisse and Modigliani were no more than “pseudo-artists”, makers of infantile daubs. “Naturally,” he writes in his Memoirs, “in order to see and … More


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