Sydney Morning Herald Column

Encounters

February 11, 2016
Mask made from turtle shell plates, Mer, Torres Strait islands. Acquired by an unknown collector before 1855.

‘Civilisation’ is a concept that has changed beyond recognition over the past century. To the pioneering ethnographers of the Victorian era, tribal cultures were merely stages on the way to the civilised state. Viewed as backward, impoverished and superstitious, it was accepted that such communities would wither and die as they fell under the spell … More


El Anatsui

February 4, 2016
EL ANATSUI, Adinkra Sasa (detail), 2003, fabric, aluminum and copper wire, 488 × 549 cm. Photo by Michael Young for ArtAsiaPacific

El Anatsui makes one feel there might actually be some substance in the talk of a globalised art world. The idea that artists from places other than Europe and America can be players on the contemporary scene has been around ever since Jean-Hubert Martin’s landmark exhibition, Magiciens de la Terre, held at the Centre Pompidou … More


Singapore: Art Stage & Beyond

January 28, 2016
Lee Wen recipient of the Joseph Balestier Award for Freedom of Art.

Down a long road in Singapore rows of banners announce: “The joy of success is in sharing it. Share success. Give hope.” These words might have been written by the organisers of Art Stage, now in its sixth year. At a time when the Chinese stockmarket has torpedoed the global economy one needs a serious … More


Destination Sydney

January 22, 2016
Brett Whiteley, The balcony 2', (1975). AGNSW collection.

Destination Sydney is an inelegant title. It may be that Australian audiences only respond to the most banal and descriptive titles but that’s no reason for making shows sound like tourism initiatives. At the risk of coming across as a snob, I can only describe it as vulgar. Complaint registered, I’m happy to record that … More


Right Here Now

January 15, 2016
Jessie Pangas, 'House of Congress', 2015, synthetic polymer paint on linen, 91.5×91.5 cm. Courtesy the artist

Regional galleries: the crisis that never ends. A few weeks ago I was invited to Canberra by the Museum of Democracy at Old Parliament House to view a show called Right Here Now: A Powerful Regional Voice in our Democracy. This event, which has been put together by freelance curators, Holly Williams, Ivan Muñiz Reed … More


Tarnanthi

January 7, 2016
Yvonne Koolmatrie, Ngarrindjeri people, South Australia, Shrimp scoop, 2015, spiny-headed sedge (Cyperus gymnocaulos); Acquisition through TARNANTHI | Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art supported by BHP Billiton 2015, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. Courtesy the artist and Aboriginal & Pacific Art, Sydney, photo: Jenni Carter.

“In the Kaurna language of the Adelaide Plains,” writes curator, Nici Cumston, “Tarnanthi means ‘to rise, come forth, spring up or appear’. It heralds the animation of new ideas and new beginnings such as the rising sun, a universal metaphor across cultures for the agency of imagination.” Tarnanthi is the title of new Festival of … More


Andy Warhol – Ai Weiwei

January 7, 2016
Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei Exhibition @NGV

There are ideas for exhibitions that make luminous sense – once somebody has announced them. Andy Warhol – Ai Weiwei at the National Gallery of Victoria set off bells and whistles in my head when curator, Max Delaney, told me about it last year. It’s such an obvious match it seems remarkable someone in Europe … More


Grayson Perry

December 17, 2015
Grayson Perry, Britain is Best, 2014, hand embroidery; silk, glass beads, sequins, cotton thread, edition of 20 plus 4 AP, published by Paragon Press, collection the artist, image courtesy Paragon Press and Victoria Miro, London © Grayson Perry

“On the whole I make very common categories of cultural product,” says Grayson Perry, “clay vessels, textile wall hangings, framed prints, figurines.” There is, however, nothing ‘common’ about the subject matter of Perry’s work or about his public persona – unless we take the word in a pejorative sense: “Oh my God, Grayson is so … More


Tom Roberts

December 10, 2015
Tom Roberts, 'Shearing the rams' (1888-90)

After a winter or two of discontent the National Gallery of Australia is once again open for business. It’s not that one hasn’t been able to visit this renowned institution, it’s just that nobody seemed to be doing so. With a scandal over looted Indian art, and a James Turrell show that ran for no … More


Gilbert & George

December 4, 2015
GILBERT & GEORGE: THE ART EXHIBITION
Gentlemen of the gutter: Gilbert & George. Photo: Jay Brooks/Camera Press/AustralS

In the Victorian era the English were masters of the world, known for imperial glory and the strength of their civil institutions. But what are the English known for today? According to English doctor, Theodore Dalrymple: “for their militant vulgarity, their lack of restraint, their arrogant loudness, their ferocious and determined drunkenness, their antisocial egotism, … More