Sydney Morning Herald Column

Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great

August 15, 2015
Alexander ROSLIN Swedish 1718–93 Portrait of Catherine II 1776–77 (detail) oil on canvas 271.0 х 189.5 cm. The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-1316) Acquired from the artist, 1777

Following the death of Prince Grigory Potemkin in 1791, Catherine the Great wrote her own epitaph. Potemkin had not only been Catherine’s most trusted advisor, statesman and general, but the undisputed love of her life. Feeling her own mortality, she set down how she would like to be remembered. Catherine, by her own estimation, had … More


Salon des Refusés 2015 & Stars + Stripes

August 8, 2015
Paul Trefry, 'Homeless still human', silicone, fiberglass, horse hair, and polyester resin

Archibald season demands to be taken seriously because it’s the only time of the year most of the public feel motivated to visit the Art Gallery of NSW and associated venues. During the Archibald Prize the AGNSW is full of people – a surge in visitation that has become more crucial than ever. With both … More


A Retrospective of Chinese Archibald Finalists

August 1, 2015
Song Ling, 'My name is Fartunate – self-portrait', (2011), acrylic on canvas, 198 x 198cm

When the Archibald Prize was first awarded in 1921 it was a strictly Caucasian affair. There was not much colour to the artists or their paintings – mostly brown pictures of men in suits. The riotous creations currently lining the walls at the Art Gallery of NSW would have seemed like bad jokes to the … More


Treasure Ships

July 25, 2015
Portugal, Salver 1520–40, silver gilt, 46.5 cm (diameter). 
National Museum Machado de Castro, Coimbra

Treasure Ships: Art in the Age of Spices may be the most fascinating exhibition to be seen at an Australian public gallery this year. The bad news, from a purely local perspective, is that it will be shown only in Adelaide and Perth. It is the brainchild of James Bennett, Curator of Asian Art at … More


The Archibald Prize 2015

July 18, 2015
Winner: Archibald Prize 2015, Nigel Milsom, Judo house pt 6 (the white bird), oil on linen, 232 x 190 cm.

There was such a hullaballoo about the Packing Room Prize this year one might have thought that former Frenchman, Bruno Grasswill, had won both the Archibald and several versions of the Nobel Prize. In fact, he had won the kiss-of-death award, traditionally given to a picture of a good bloke or a good sort, as … More


Go East: The Gene & Brian Sherman Contemporary Art Collection

July 11, 2015
Zhang Huan, Family Tree, 2000, c-type prints, suite of 9 images, edition 2/3, 227 x 183 cm (framed). Image courtesy: The Gene and Brian Sherman Collection, and Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Sydney. Photo: the artist.

Public galleries have always cultivated good relations with private collectors, but lately those ties have taken on a new importance. This is partly a result of governments wanting to palm off the responsibility for arts funding onto private sources. The logic is perfectly cynical: when spending cuts are required the arts are seen as a … More


William Dobell: Painter in Paradise

July 4, 2015
WILLIAM DOBELL,
'Head of Kuta girl' (1953)
oil on hardboard, 45 x 34 cm.
Private collection

Although he was one of Australia’s best-known artists, William Dobell (1899-1970) was inordinately sensitive to criticism. After the notorious court case over his Archibald Prize win of 1943, Dobell withdrew to his hideaway in Wangi where he suffered from a series of nervous complaints. He broke out in severe dermatitis and at one point lost … More


Marina Abramovic: In Residence

June 27, 2015
Scene from Marina Abramovic: In Residence. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

“Life is too fast,” says Marina Abramovic, “so art has to be slow.” Perhaps fast art is no more nutritious than fast food? You’ll notice the difference when visiting Marina Abramovic: In Residence, the latest Kaldor Public Art Project at Pier 2/3. Upon entering, watches and bags are deposited in a locker. After a series … More


Marina Abramovic: Private Archaeology

June 27, 2015
Artist Portrait with a Candle (detail) © Marina Abramović, Courtesy of the Marina Abramović Archives

David Walsh never does anything by halves at his Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). Within a few years he has transformed Hobart into one of the most desirable cultural tourist destinations in Australia – or just off the coast of Australia, if you take the Tasmanian perspective. The Dark Mofo Festival has drawn … More


White Rabbit: State of Play

June 20, 2015
State of Play exhibition at the White Rabbit Gallery (installation view) (2015)

Certain nations are not renowned for their playfulness. Nicht wahr? Yet this is not the case with the Chinese who found out many years ago the only way to make life bearable is to laugh about it. The Chinese sense of humour is robust and dark. It may have been this way from time immemorial, … More