Sydney Morning Herald Column

Flora & Fauna

October 2, 2015
Embellishment - metallic thread and gilt bead reticule, 1890

Fashion exhibitions have drawn millions of visitors to the world’s leading art museums, but there are still cultural snobs who believe such events merely trivialise an institution. I can hardly be bothered rehearsing the old argument that sees fashion as a filthy commodity while art is food for the soul and the intellect. It’s an … More


Julia Margaret Cameron

September 25, 2015
'Mrs Herbert Duckworth' (1872) © Julia Margaret Cameron/Courtesy Hans P. Kraus Jr. Fine Photographs

Imagine photographs that “electrify you with delight and startle the world,” and one does not automatically think of Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79). Nevertheless, she was the author of both the photographs and the rave review. Today we are more likely to be startled by Cameron’s brazen self-confidence than by her portraits and ‘literary’ fancies. The … More


Robert MacPherson

September 19, 2015
Robert MacPherson
Mayfair: Bethonga Gold, for B.T.O's 1995-2006
National Gallery of Australia

If Robert MacPherson (b. 1937) were a character in a novel he would test the reader’s credulity. It’s hard to believe in the idea of a conceptual artist raised in a Queensland country town, who left school early to work in a cannery and then as a musterer at a cattle station. By the age … More


David Bowie is

September 12, 2015
Striped bodysuit for the Aladdin Sane tour, 1973. Design by Kansai Yamamoto. Photograph by Masayoshi Sukita. © Sukita/The David Bowie Archive

David Bowie is one of those rare artists who have helped define a decade. That decade was the 1970s – an era when world economies were sent into a spin by an oil crisis, and fashion went AWOL. Those were the years that saw the downfall of Richard Nixon, the rise of Margaret Thatcher, the … More


After Utopia

September 5, 2015
IAN WOO, We Have Crossed The Lake, 2009, acrylic on linen, 194 × 244 cm. Courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Irony has never been a big feature of life in Singapore, but perhaps it’s catching on. Of all nations on the planet, Singapore is arguably the closest thing to a social laboratory, where economic and cultural programs are dreamt up by a paternalistic state and broadly accepted by the population. This centralised control has made … More


Aleks Danko and Haines & Hinterding

August 29, 2015
Aleks Danko, incident – Ambivalence, 1991-1992, wood, galvanised steel and synthetic polymer paint and varnish, Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with the assistance of stART, MCA Young Patrons, 1993, image courtesy and © the artist

There are many exhibitions that must have been fun for the artist but leave viewers in a state of mild perplexity. The Museum of Contemporary Art has two such shows at the moment – shows that can be broadly appreciated, but not loved. Energies, the survey by David Haines and Joyce Hinterding, is almost over, … More


Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale 2015

August 22, 2015
Image courtesy Australian Embassy Tokyo.

In the courtyard of the Satoyama Museum, in Tokamachi City, a mountain has been born. Covered in dense forest, with clouds of mist and even a waterfall, the towering monolith sits in a shallow pool of water. The courtyard is surrounded by a ring of helicopters, battleships, submarines and patrol boats – 100 small models … More


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