Sydney Morning Herald Column

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


Din Q. Lê: Erasure, Cairns Indigenous Art Fair 2011

August 27, 2011
Dinh Q. Lê Erasure, 2011 digital video (still) Courtesy the artist and Sàn Art Independent Artist Space, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

It was astonishing to learn that in a recent opinion poll Australians rated border protection as a more important issue than health, education, transport or housing. This is one of those statistical miracles that testify to our growing sense of social paranoia and the power of political scare campaigns. The facts are well known but … More


David Aspden

August 26, 2011
David Aspden untitled

Like Tom Roberts before him, David Aspden (1935-2005) was born in rural England and arrived in Australia around the age of fifteen. This is a time of life when the biggest part of one’s adult personality is already formed. Roberts, who grew up in the age of Empire, was never quite sure if he was … More


Saatchi Gallery in Adelaide: British Art Now

August 16, 2011
Idris Kahn, Every... Prison Type Gasholders

Ever since Sensation hit the headlines in 1997, contemporary British Art has been synonymous with scandal. When the show appeared at the Royal Academy in London, the catalyst was Marcus Harvey’s huge portrait of the murderess, Myra Hindley, made from hundreds of children’s handprints. In Brooklyn, two years later, the flashpoint was Chris Ofili’s The … More


Edmund Capon & his legacy

August 3, 2011
Photo: Nick Moir, SMH

This won’t be the first or last time that someone declares Edmund Capon a hard act to follow. In his thirty-one years as director of the Art Gallery of NSW, Capon has taken a provincial, down-at-heel institution and turned it into a Grade-A showcase for Australian and international art. Yet he leaves at time when … More


Lucian Freud 1922 – 2011

July 31, 2011
Lucien Freud, Reflection (Self Portrait)

With the passing of Lucian Freud, British art has lost not only one of its great painters, but a legendary conversationalist. Perhaps it was a skill acquired while staring at people for hours in the studio, deciding whether or not to put a microscopic dab of paint on the end of a nose. Freud’s anecdotes, … More