Sydney Morning Herald Column

Light Show

June 13, 2015
David Batchelor Magic Hour, 2004/2007. Installation view Light Show, Hayward Gallery, 2013 © the artist 2015. Photography: Marcus J Leith

Mention the Festival of Light in Sydney nowadays and most people will think of Vivid rather than the Reverend Fred Nile’s wowsers. This is only natural, as Sydney has always embraced hedonism more readily than morality. In seven years, Vivid – a festival devoted to “music, light and ideas” – has established a monumental presence. … More


Michael Parekowhai & Billy Apple

June 6, 2015
PAREKOWHAI, Michael, The English Channel, 2015 Stainless steel. Courtesy: The artist and Michael Lett

When the drive towards Federation began in the late 19th century New Zealanders were actively involved, but by 1901 they had opted out. Their reason – and this is stated on the NZ history website – was that New Zealanders, both Pakeha and Maori, “were of superior stock to their counterparts across the Tasman.” A … More


A Golden Age of China

May 30, 2015
Giuseppe CASTIGLIONE
Italian 1688–1766, worked in China 1714–66. Portrait of Qianlong Emperor in ceremonial court robe Qing dynasty, Qianlong period 1736 coloured inks on silk 238.5 x 179.2 cm (image and sheet). The Palace Museum, Beijing.

Imagine a painting titled: Tony Abbott admiring lotus while playing a zither, and you have glimpsed the cultural chasm that separates our world from that of the Qianlong Emperor. While the rulers of the Qing Dynasty (1644 -1911) were careful to surround themselves with symbols of conquest and martial prowess, they were equally assiduous in … More


56th Venice Biennale, 2015

May 16, 2015
Fiona Hall, Tjukurrpa Kumpilitja (Hidden Stories), detail, 2014

“He’s very political.” This is what I heard, more than once, about Okwui Enwezor, the Nigerian-born curator of the 56th Venice Biennale, which goes by the suitably airy title: All the World’s Futures. This need not imply revolutionary credentials because “political” is a word with both macro and micro applications. Put three people in a … More


Head On 2015

May 15, 2015
Sandro Miller, Annie Leibovitz/ Meryl Streep NYC, (1981), 2014

When a show draws a huge crowd to the Town Hall on a rainy Friday night it is testimony to Sydney’s booming interest in photography. The occasion was the opening of Head On, the annual photo festival that has grown to colossal proportions over the past few years. The influx of photographers and fans from … More


Anzac Shows, New Zealand

May 2, 2015
The Great War Exhibition, Pukeahu National War Memorial Park, Buckle St, Wellington April 23, 2015 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Mark Tantrum/ mark tantrum.com)

Australia is allegedly spending $325 million on the commemoration of the First World War. This figure, we are told, is more than twice what the British have allocated, and 20 times the budget for events in New Zealand. Some will see this is a waste of money at a time when the government is preaching … More


Trent Parke

April 25, 2015
Trent Parke, Australia, born 1971, Swan, Adelaide, 2007, © Trent Parke/Magnum Photos

Death and the photo are close relations, as every click of the camera records a moment that will never be repeated. What we tend to admire in a photographer is the ability to transcend this inherent morbidity, to take the stuff of everyday life and shape it into something strange and marvellous. No photographer could … More


Robert Campbell Jr.

April 18, 2015
Robert Campbell Jnr, 'Giver of Life' (1986). Photograph: Artbank

Artbank, the Australian government’s art rental agency, has been around since 1980. It was an initiative of a Fraser administration returned to power for a third consecutive term that year – a reminder of an era when both sides of politics took an active interest in the arts. By contrast, today’s politicians seem completely devoid … More


David Lynch

April 11, 2015
David Lynch, Man On Wire, 1998, Archival gelatin silver print, 27.9 x 35.5cm. Courtesy: the artist © David Lynch

For 35 years David Lynch has been an enthusiastic devotee of Transcendental Meditation. “This field within, this field of pure consciousness” he tells curator, José Da Silva, “has qualities and those qualities are: unbounded intelligence, unbounded creativity, unbounded happiness, unbounded love, unbounded energy and unbounded peace. It’s all positive there within – the big treasury!” … More


The Photograph and Australia

April 4, 2015
Unknown, Australian scenery, Middle Harbour, Port Jackson, c. 1865

Some exhibitions should come with a ‘Buyer Beware’ warning. Many will go along to The Photograph and Australia at the Art Gallery of NSW expecting to see a comprehensive historical survey of Australian photography. The AGNSW has encouraged such expectations by using well-known images by David Moore and Olive Cotton in its publicity material. In … More