Sydney Morning Herald Column

Portrait of Spain

July 28, 2012
Alonso Sánchez Coello, The infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia and Magdalena Ruiz (detail) c.1585–88, oil on canvas, 207 X 129 cm

Over the years one grows wary of the claims made for so-called ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions. Each new show is the biggest, the best, the first, the most important. It is, therefore, a pleasure to see an exhibition that lives up to its pre-publicity. None of the 100 works borrowed for Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the … More

Kamisaka Sekka & Hiroshige

July 21, 2012
Kamisaka Sekka (1866-1942), Flowers and plants of the four seasons 1920-25, pair of six folding screens, ink, colour and gold on silk, 82.3x244.8cm

Art in Japan has been through all the same upheavals as art in the west, but no other country has managed to retain so much of its own distinctive character. The defining characteristics include a respect for tradition that shines through even in a critical or satirical mode; a love of beauty and craftsmanship; and … More

18th Biennale of Sydney

July 14, 2012
Sachiko Abe: Cut Papers # 13, 2012

One of the most striking images in the 18th Biennale of Sydney is that of Japanese artist Sachiko Abe, dressed in bridal white, sitting in a small brick building in Cockatoo Island, cutting paper. Visitors are asked to remain silent, so the only sound is the noise made by Abe’s scissors as she trims sheets … More

Portrait of Spain (a preview)

July 7, 2012
Titian, Christ carrying the Cross, c.1565, oil on canvas, 67 x 77cm

For a visitor to the Museo del Prado in Madrid one moment stays fixed in the memory: entering the central gallery to be confronted by Diego Velasquez’s masterpiece, Las Meninas (1665). The most dramatic way of approaching the painting is to see it framed by a doorway from the other side of the room. There … More

18th Biennale of Sydney

July 7, 2012
Liu Zhuoquan: Where are you? (2012) MCA installation

“Between belief in Nature and belief in politics, one has to choose,” writes French sociologist, Bruno Latour, in the stand-out essay in this year’s Biennale catalogue. We have a perfect demonstration of this principle in the hysterical debate about a carbon price. While Nature is forever, politics is an exercise in short-term, strategic thinking that … More

Theatre of the World

June 30, 2012
Screen shot 2012-07-28 at 7.45.16 PM

For many people museums are uncomfortably similar to mausoleums – repositories of dead animals, dead art, dead ideas. Even those of us who spend their lives in these institutions experience moments when everything feels too dull or predictable. At heart, museums are educational organisations, competing for attention with an ever-increasing range of distractions. But the … More

AGNSW: A new hang

June 23, 2012
Screen shot 2012-07-06 at 6.06.32 PM

A new hang of a gallery’s permanent collection was once a routine affair, but nowadays it has taken on the status of an event. This is partly because the rising costs of doing exhibitions combined with the dwindling budgets of public galleries have forced all institutions to draw more heavily on the works they already … More

Not the Way Home, Damaged

June 16, 2012
Elisabeth Cummings Creek Bed Fowlers Gap 2011 oil on canvas 115 x 130cm

In recent years there has been a spate of projects in which a group of artists are taken to some far-flung location and invited to respond to a new environment. The end result is a group exhibition that gathers together works made on the spot, and those created afterwards in the studio from memories, sketches … More

Down the Rabbit Hole

June 9, 2012
Screen shot 2012-06-22 at 3.46.56 PM

Last year, according to The New York Times, 395 museums were built across China. As with most things in this vast, mysterious country, the statistics give only a superficial glimpse of the complexities involved. Firstly one might question the Chinese definition of “museum”, which may be a grandiose word for a lot of small-scale enterprises. … More

Masami Teraoka, Migration

June 2, 2012
Masami Teraoka: New Wave Series / Christine at Hanauma Bay 1992 watercolour on paper 56.5 x 75.0 cm

One of the strangest developments in the Sydney art scene is the sudden upsurge of galleries showing and selling high priced international art. This is surprising, given the fact that these are dismal times for retail and the art business is essentially retail with delusions of grandeur. There are only two explanations: either there are … More