Sydney Morning Herald Column

Anri Sala: The Last Resort

October 20, 2017
Anri Sala, drum beats over Sydney Harbour

Historians can never agree about the so-called “Age of Enlightenment”. The narrow definition has it beginning with the death of Louis XIV in 1715 and ending with the French Revolution in 1789. The long version begins somewhere in the late 1600s and fizzles out in 1815 with Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. As the dates are … More


The House of Dior

October 13, 2017
Dior installation. John Galliano's Look 22 suit is second from the left

Christian Dior was never one to boast about his achievements but he had very clear ideas about the importance of fashion. “I have always seen my profession as a kind of struggle against all that is depressing and mediocre in our age,” he once said. It’s a statement any couturier would be happy to own. … More


White Rabbit: Ritual Spirit

October 6, 2017
Peng Hung-Chih, 'Farfur the Martyr' (2009)

Last week I was in China meeting artists from each end of the contemporary art spectrum. In Suzhou I saw a breathtaking show of brush-and-ink painting by Li Huayi (b.1948) an artist who has divided his life between China and San Francisco. In Shanghai I visited Xu Zhen (b.1977), one of the most successful artists … More


Hilarie Mais

September 30, 2017
Hilarie Mais, 'reflection/reach' (2015) & 'reflection/feather' (2016)

One could hardly imagine a greater contrast between exhibitions than the current offerings at the Museum of Contemporary Art. On level two viewers can sample the shapeless paintings of Jenny Watson, structured only by virtue of the artist’s whims. On the entrance level there is a single large gallery devoted to the work of Hilarie … More


Fred Williams in the You Yangs

September 21, 2017
Fred Williams, 'You Yangs Landscape' (1963)

Last year the Geelong Art Gallery held an exemplary survey of Arthur Streeton’s paintings made in Victoria’s Western Districts from 1920-32. The exhibition was a swansong for retiring director, Geoffrey Edwards. This year the gallery has marked the arrival of new director, Jason Smith, with a show of comparable importance: Fred Williams in the You … More


Sydney Contemporary 2017

September 15, 2017
Hahan, with his soon-to-be carved up mural

It was both pleasing and wryly amusing to learn that sales at this year’s Sydney Contemporary Art Fair topped $16 million. For a commercial gallery sector feeling unloved and unvisited this figure represents a resounding endorsement. Nevertheless, before breaking out the champagne it’s worth putting that achievement into perspective with a glance at Day One … More


Jenny Watson

September 8, 2017
Jenny Watson, '60s Dolly Bird' (2014)

One imagines teachers at the Julian Ashton Art School sending their pupils across the road to the Museum of Contemporary Art, to see Jenny Watson: The Fabric of Fantasy. For the traditionally-minded it’s an object lesson in how not to make art. If there are any cynics among those students, they might say: “…nevertheless, it … More


Hokusai

September 1, 2017
You may have seen this one before somewhere...

If ever an image deserved to be called “iconic” it is The great wave off Kanagawa (1830-34), by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). Everyone knows this famous print of two boats menaced by a monstrous surge of water that reaches out like a hungry predator with a hundred talons. This was exactly the way the picture struck … More


Art Stage Jakarta 2017

August 25, 2017
Melati spits ink at the Macan Museum

Two moments from the week of Art Stage Jakarta 2017 will stay lodged in my mind: the would-be ‘glittering occasion’ of the inaugural Indonesian Art Award, and a performance by Melati Suryodarmo in which she spent three hours in a blank cubicle, grunting, groaning and spitting ink at the walls. Indonesian art today lies somewhere … More


The Public Body.02

August 18, 2017
Regina José Galindo, a different take on real estate

Our age is one of unprecedented permissiveness and militant puritanism. Pornography of every description is available at the click of a keyboard, small children are sexualised in a manner that would have been inconceivable to our grandparents’ generation. Yet Newton’s third law applies in psychology as well as science: for every action, there is an … More