Sydney Morning Herald Column

Elvis at 21

February 8, 2014
On train, New York to Memphis July 4, 1956 © Alfred Wertheimer. All rights reserved, NPG

In 1956 the United States had plenty to think about. World War II lingered in popular memory; the Cold War was in full swing; and in Montgomery Alabama, black citizens were boycotting the local buses in one of the first great campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement. But the subject causing consternation in the mass … More


Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion

February 1, 2014
Edward Steichen 
American 1879–1973, worked in France 1906–23, Tamaris with a large Art Deco scarf 1925, gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive © 1925 Condé Nast Publications

When Edward Steichen (1879-1973) accepted the job as Chief Photographer for Condé Nast publications in 1923 it was taken for granted he would work under a pseudonym. Already known as both a famous art photographer and a painter, his employer realised Steichen would probably not wish to be associated with the purely commercial work he … More


Christian Boltanski

January 25, 2014
Christian Boltanski opening at Carriageworks

Life as a conveyor belt, taking us inexorably from birth to death, is not an original idea. Charlie Chaplin had the same thought in the famous sequence from Modern Times (1936) when the worker is dragged through the machine. Chaplin had a political agenda but the image also captured the helplessness and insignificance one feels … More


Gold and the Incas

January 18, 2014
MOCHE culture
North coast 100 – 800 AD
Bead in the form of an owl’s head
100-800 AD
gold and turquoise 
3.7 (h) x 3.3 (w) cm
Ministerio de Cultura del Perú: Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipán, Lambayeque
Photograph: Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipán

It may be the stuff of popular culture but whenever I think of the Incas, Aztecs or Mayans the first images that spring to mind are from Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto (2006). This drama of native American life in the days before the Spanish conquest may be one of the most brutal and disturbing movies ever … More


Melbourne Now

January 11, 2014
Ross COULTER
10,000 Paper Planes - Aftermath (1) 2011 
type C photograph
156 x 200 cm (image and sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2012
2012.332

In Melbourne Now the National Gallery of Victoria has staged a sprawling, colossally ambitious survey of the city’s contemporary art that also includes architecture, design, dance, performance and more. Although the logistical achievement is impressive, the exhibition is an act of metropolitan navel-gazing on a scale inconceivable in any other Australian capital. The catalogue is … More


Utzon’s Opera House

January 6, 2014
Rew Hanks, Eternity, 2006, coloured linocut.

“It has made me feel glad I am alive in Australia today,” wrote Patrick White in 1965, after a tour of the Sydney Opera House with architect, Jorn Utzon. “At last we are going to have something worth having.” The official opening in 1973 was overshadowed by the long and painful building process, which began … More


Cai Guo-Qiang

December 14, 2013
Cai Guo-Qiang, Hold On (installation view) Queensland Art Gallery, 2013

Cai Guo-Qiang is an artist who understands spectacle. In an international art scene as crowded as a commuter train at rush hour he creates large-scale installations that stop viewers in their tracks. Where so many artists are identified with a trademark style, Cai has managed to regularly turn over his themes and techniques. What all … More


Singapore Biennale

December 7, 2013
Singapore Biennale 2013 - If The World Changed
Photos contributed by Aaron Eng

This year’s Singapore Biennale goes by the theme: If the World Changed. But where does the “if” come into the equation? The world is changing all the time with increasing rapidity. There is the forward movement of technological progress and the looming entropy of climate change. Every country in the world is locked into a … More


Yoko Ono

November 30, 2013
Artist Yoko Ono, Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, 2013

For an artist who has devoted her career to peace, love and understanding, Yoko Ono’s press call at the Museum of Contemporary Art was unpleasantly regimented. Journalists and photographers were herded from room to room like errant sheep, and it was made clear that questions about John Lennon would not be welcome. The only problem … More


America: Painting a Nation

November 23, 2013
Henry Inman
No-Tin (Wind), a Chippewa Chief 1832–1833
oil on canvas, 77.5 x 65.4 cm
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Gift of the 2008 Collectors Committee
M.2008.58
Photo: Museum Associates/LACMA

“Thus in the beginning,” wrote the philosopher, John Locke in 1689, “all the world was America.” He was referring to a primitive state of social organisation being rapidly improved by British colonialism. Nowadays Locke’s words seem just as true, but it is because America has colonised the rest of the world. For much of the … More