Sydney Morning Herald Column

Rayner Hoff

March 17, 2017
Rayner Hoff Life and Art at NAS. Photos Peter Morgan

Ask sculptors to nominate the single greatest work of Australian sculpture and most will opt for The Sacrifice (1934), the centrepiece of the Anzac Memorial in Sydney’s Hyde Park. It’s the work of Rayner Hoff (1894-1937), an exceptional artist and inspirational teacher, whose legacy is receiving overdue recognition in a two-week exhibition at the National … More

On the Origin of Art

March 10, 2017
Who says your feelings have to make sense, 2016. Image courtesy of MONA.

In 1997 scientist, Steven Pinker, described music as “auditory cheesecake”. His one-liner has been repeated many times since, with variations. It’s a simple extrapolation to say that all art is “cheesecake for the mind”, or as Pinker puts it: “a brew of megadoses of agreeable stimuli which we concocted for the express purpose of pressing … More

Perth Festival Art

March 3, 2017
Joh Akomfrah, Untitled, 2016, C-type print mounted on Dibond, Framed: 101.6 × 152.4 cm / 40 × 60 in
© Smoking Dogs Films;
Courtesy the Artist; Lisson Gallery, London

Back in the 1980s when Adelaide was Australia’s only notable arts festival, it featured a comprehensive visual arts program. Today there are festivals in every major city and in several minor ones, but the visual arts are marginal to proceedings. The exception to the rule is the Perth International Arts Festival. Long-term curator, Margaret Moore, … More

Margaret Olley

February 24, 2017
Margaret Olley, The yellow room triptych, 2007, oil on board, 138.0 x 290.0cm. New England Regional Art Museum - Purchased through the Yellow Room Appeal 2013 The Howard Hinton Collection

It’s hard to believe it’s been more than five years since Margaret Olley died. She was such a forceful personality I still half expect to see her pushing through a crowd at the Art Gallery of NSW, using her walking frame to clear a path. The art world is notorious for its doublespeak but Margaret … More


February 17, 2017
Latona and her children, 1668-70. Installed in the Versailles: Treasures from the Palace exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

In Roberto Rossellini’s film of 1966, The Taking of Power by Louis XIV, there is a scene in which the King appears in an outrageous red outfit, all frills and flounces, designed to his own specifications. He explains that with this clownish costume he is setting a dress code to keep his nobles poor, and … More

‘Difficult Pleasures’ in Berlin

February 10, 2017
Installation view. Photo: Matthias Kolb, Courtesy Contemporary Fine Arts Berlin

Am Kupfergraben 10 is a modern four-storey building in the historic heart of Berlin. An imposing structure in reinforced concrete and glass, designed by British architect David Chipperfield, it looks out across the River Spree to the Museum Island and the Lustgarten. With high ceilings, gleaming white walls and large windows with adjustable light levels, … More

Philippe Parreno

February 2, 2017
Image courtesy of Australian Centre for the Moving Image

There’s something fascinating about Philippe Parreno, but it’s not necessarily the art. It’s his mind. Having sat through two-and-a-half hours of short, oblique films at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, I came away feeling amazed by the kind of mind that could devise such a strange, obscure spectacle. Perhaps “spectacle” is the wrong … More

Tatsuo Miyajima

January 27, 2017
Tatsuo Miyajima, Pile Up Life No. 2, 2009/2016, installation view, Tatsuo Miyajima: Connect with Everything, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, 2016, waterproof LED, IC, fibre-reinforced plastics, electric wire, transformer, image courtesy and © the artist, photograph: Alex Davies

Tatsuo Miyajima is the kind of artist who stands out, even in the largest of exhibitions. My first glimpse of his work came at the 1988 Venice Biennale where his Sea of Time was the most talked-about piece on display. Amidst all the derivative and nondescript stuff that inhabits the specially curated component of the … More

Sappers and Shrapnel

January 13, 2017
detail: Tony Albert, Universal Soldier 2014. Courtesy the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney. Photo Greg Piper

I’m regretful about Sappers and Shrapnel: Contemporary Art and the Art of the Trenches at the Art Gallery of South Australia – not about the show but about how long it lingered in the queue before I could get down to Adelaide for a viewing. Exhibitions at the AGSA are often of a short duration … More

Bronwyn Oliver

January 6, 2017
Bronwyn Oliver, 'Umbra' 2003, copper, 110 x 110 x 20 cm. Private collection ©Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

All artists are ultimately judged not by their biographies and personalities, but by what they leave behind. It doesn’t matter what sins they might have committed, or what trails of heartbreak and devastation they left in their wake. We might deplore Gauguin’s narcissism and perversity, but it doesn’t mean we think less of his paintings. … More