Sydney Morning Herald Column

The Portia Geach Memorial Award

October 29, 2011
Sophie Cape, Master and Commander. Mixed media on canvas, 208 x 286cm.

One of the small paradoxes of colonial Australian art is the question as to why there were so few notable female artists at a time when women art students continually outnumbered their male counterparts. Looking at photos of the graduating classes of the National Gallery of Victoria School in the late 1800s, there is always … More


Robert Malherbe, Rhys Lee, Peter Godwin & Guan Wei

October 22, 2011
Peter Godwin, Studio Interior/ Torricelli Mask, 2011, gouache and tempera on paper, 40 x 60cm

There is a romantic expectation that an artist will keep producing works that are wholly original. This can create a debilitating pressure, as some feel obliged to produce a new twist with every exhibition. But art is not created in a vacuum, and all artists take something from their predecessors. As Picasso is famously alleged … More


Guanxi

October 15, 2011
Li Wei, Hero-Chorus (2), 2010

Guanxi is a curious word. It is usually translated as  “contacts”, but there is no single English-language term that captures all the connotations it has for a Chinese speaker. Guanxi refers to a special kind of relationship between people whereby one may always be counted on to help the other. Such relationships are long-term and … More


White Rabbit: Beyond the Frame

October 8, 2011
Ai Weiwei, Oil Spill, 2006

Back again is Ai Weiwei’s Oil spill (2007) – a series of shiny black porcelain discs that sit flat on the floor, mimicking drops of black gold. In typical fashion, Ai Weiwei takes a substance associated with toxic pollution and transforms it into an aesthetic delicacy. Such ironic turnarounds and dislocations are characteristic of his … More


The 60th Blake Prize Exhibition

October 1, 2011
William Blake, Ancient of Days, 1794, watercolour etching

In recent years I have cheerfully avoided the Blake Prize and might have done so again in its 60th anniversary year, had not Rachael Kohn from Radio National asked me to comment on the show. The reason why I generally avoid the Blake is not because I’m irreligious – which I freely admit – but … More


The Steins Collect

September 24, 2011
Henri Matisse, Blue Nude Memory of Biskra

“There are two geniuses in art today,” Gertrude Stein told Picasso, “you in painting, and I in literature.” Whatever posterity has made of Gertrude Stein’s literary efforts, her self-confidence has rarely been surpassed. For the most part, her cryptic, repetitive prose style ensured that her books found few readers. The outstanding exception was The Autobiography … More


Abstraction

September 17, 2011
Aida Tomescu, Welt II, 2005, mixed media and collage on paper

Among the unsolicited art emails that appear in my mail-box every week, one recent posting came from the Martos Gallery in New York, who were holding an exhibition called We Regret to Inform You There is Currently No Space or Place for Abstract Painting. The image that came with the email showed this sentence written … More


Fred Williams

September 10, 2011
Fred Williams, You Yangs landscape, oil on composition board

When the previous retrospective of an artist’s work contained no fewer than 417 pieces, it is inevitable that a new exhibition of about 120 pictures will be known as the ‘smaller’ show. That earlier Fred Williams’s mega-retrospective was held at the National Gallery of Australia in 1987, but I still have a vivid recollection of … More


The Mad Square

September 3, 2011
Rudolph Schlichter, Tingel tangel

It happens from time to time that I fail to distinguish a cabaret from a crematorium – Joseph Roth From its traumatic birth, at the end of World War One, the Weimar Republic was an unstable experiment. The historian, Eric Hobsbawm charts its rise and fall in an introductory essay for the catalogue of The … More


Vienna: Art & Design

August 31, 2011
Egon Schiele, Self-portrait with hands on chest

In that period known as the Belle Époque, from the end of the nineteenth century to the outbreak of the First World War, Europe went through a prodigious burst of creativity. Modernity had arrived in full force, and no centre, with the obvious exception of Paris, was more dynamic than Vienna. Both cities were melting … More