Sydney Morning Herald Column

Defying Empire

August 9, 2017
Archie Moore, Aboriginal Anarchy (2012)

During the Howard years we were constantly hearing about the Culture Wars – a term borrowed from the United States, pertaining to the battle between conservative and liberal values. In Australia the conflict became fixated on whether this continent had been taken by force from its original inhabitants, and what reparations were due. It was … More

Salon des Refusés 2017

August 3, 2017
Wendy Sharpe: The Witching Hour - Elena Kats-Chernin (composer)

Every year I nurture a dim fantasy of a Salon des Refusés bristling with masterpieces rejected from the Archibald and Wynne Prizes by the Trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW. Every year I relinquish this thought almost as soon as I step into the S.H.Ervin Gallery. The Refusés was a great idea when it … More

The 2017 Archibald Prize

July 28, 2017
Mitch Cairns's Agatha Gothe-Snape, the first Archibald Prize winner with a green nose

By the usual Archibald Prize standards 2017 is a low key year. There are plenty of neat, correct entries, a touch of quirkiness, a bit of thick impasto, but nothing to get the pulse racing with delight or indignation. Unless, perhaps, you’re a lunatic right-winger who starts to foam at the mouth at the merest … More

Mad Love

July 22, 2017
Kathryn Del Barton's delirious stain through hair and flesh………and stain through fur and flesh………

Although we live in a world in which the ugliest forms of nationalism seem to be making a comeback there is one partial antidote: cultural exchange. As we become progressively more familiar with the art, music, film, fashion and cuisine of another country, the fear and suspicion of the Other is diminished. Japan, for instance, … More

Ray Hughes: Africa

July 15, 2017
Gbinglo, by Cyprien Tokoudagba

There is still some dispute about the importance of Jean-Hubert Martin’s 1989 exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, Magiciens de la terre, which laid down an historic challenge to the Eurocentrism of western art museums. For former art dealer, Ray Hughes, there is no dispute whatsoever. It was a game-changer. Hughes acquired his first African artefacts … More

O’Keeffe, Preston, Cossington Smith: Making Modernism

July 7, 2017
Margaret Preston, Implement blue (1927)

There are exhibitions that sound marvellous in theory but somehow fail to measure up when they make it to the gallery walls. O’Keeffe, Preston, Cossington Smith: Making Modernism at the Art Gallery of NSW is an almost perfect example. As one of those projects that puts Australian artists on equal terms with a better known … More

Kader Attia

July 1, 2017
Kader Attia, watching heads from J'Accuse (2016)

If ever an artist were attuned to the temper of our times it is Kader Attia (b.1970). Following a successful showing in Documenta 13 in 2012, this French-Algerian creator of multimedia installations and videos has since become one of the most sought-after artists in the world. The piece that made such a powerful impression was … More

Art Basel 2017 & Documenta 14

June 22, 2017
The title of Art Basel's special installations section said it all...

Contemporary art can be a punishing obsession for its true believers but rarely do the art die-hards get the chance to attend four major events during a single visit to Europe. The Venice Biennale, which has been running since the second week in May, has now been joined by a uniquely bifurcated version of Documenta, … More


June 14, 2017
Urs Fischer, 'Al Dente' (2016)

This year’s Financial Review Rich List reveals that Australia today has no fewer than 60 billionaires. For an economy in perpetual crisis, demanding sacrifices from the lowest wage earners, things are obviously working well for some people. Looking at this list it’s remarkable how few of our billionaires do anything at all for the arts. … More

Elisabeth Cummings

June 6, 2017
Elisabeth Cummings, 'Edge of the Simpson Desert (Diptych) (2011)

In the annals of Australian art Elisabeth Cummings was an almost invisible presence for the first 30 years of her career. The story would change in the early 1990s when she began to attract serious attention from private collectors, who are always quicker off the mark than public institutions. After a slow start, partly due … More