National Gallery of Australia

What Betty Knew

April 11, 2015
Betty Churcher

Betty Churcher (1931-2015) knew that if you wanted the best loans for an international exhibition you had to get the museum directors of the world to go along with the journey. This required an initial charm offensive followed by a persuasive argument about the nature of the show you were proposing. It couldn’t be a … More

James Turrell: A Retrospective

February 7, 2015
James Turrell, Afrum (White), 1966, cross-corner projection: projected light. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. © James Turrell. Photograph © Florian Holzherr.

Light is the crucial element for almost every great painter, from Caravaggio to Turner to Monet. Manipulating paint on canvas to convincingly reproduce the effects of sunshine or darkness is a skill that separates the master from the amateur. In Australian art one thinks of the blaze of light in Streeton’s early paintings, or the … More

Lee Lee-nam & Robert Motherwell

September 13, 2014
Robert Motherwell, 'The Black Wall l' (1981) lift-ground etching and aquatint on Georges Duchene Hawthrone of Larroque

French art historian, Daniel Arasse, hopes an audience might be able to stand in front of one masterpiece for at least five minutes. It doesn’t sound a big ask, but spend time in a gallery and watch how long people linger in front of even the most famous works of art. Five minutes would be … More

Arthur Boyd: An Active Witness

June 28, 2014
Arthur Boyd, Australia, (1920 – 1999), 'Persecuted lovers', 1957-58.

Arthur Boyd (1920-99) was one of Australian art’s leading painters and one of its greatest mysteries. In the preface to her comprehensive biography, published in 2007, Darleen Bungey quotes Boyd’s youngest daughter, Polly, who calls her father “an enigma, probably one of the most secret people on earth.” This also acts as a disclaimer for … 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

2013: The Best & Worst of the Visual Arts

January 6, 2014
Installation piece: Xu Zhen's In Just a Blink of an Eye, in the 27th Kaldor Art Project 13 Rooms. Photo: Janie Barrett

My best art experience of the year happened on the other side of the planet, in a retrospective celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Edvard Munch. The show, divided between the National Gallery and the Munch Museum in Olso, revealed an unrelenting intensity of vision. It featured the most complete collection of paintings … More

Fiona Hall for Venice

December 5, 2013
Fiona Hall, A selection of intricate sculptures carved from sardine cans, Royal Academy, London

For more than 20 years Fiona Hall has been the obvious, dead-set, undeniable first choice to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale. It is a testimony to the acumen of our arts bureaucracy that in 2015 she will become the first artist to occupy a newly-built pavilion. Any other country might have rushed her into … More

Australia at the Royal Academy

September 28, 2013
John Olsen, Sydney sun (King sun) 1965, oil on three plywood panels, 307.0 h x 412.5 w x 4.0 d cm

Australia at the Royal Academy of Arts in London has echoes of Baz Luhrmann’s blockbuster movie of 2010. Like that overblown, incoherent concoction, the one-word title of the RA show suggests this is all you will ever need to know about Australian art. It presents itself as a definitive statement. Kathleen Soriano, Director of Exhibitions … More

Party time in London

September 21, 2013
Sidney Nolan, 'Ned Kelly', 1946, Enamel paint on composition board, 90.8 x 121.5 cm

For the long-anticipated show of Australian art at the Royal Academy the opening night was always going to be a joyous affair. The problem is that nobody looks at the art at an opening. Having already spent hours inspecting this exhibition I felt like a party pooper when people gushed: “Isn’t it wonderful!?” No, it’s … More

The Dance of Shiva

July 13, 2013
Shiva as Lord of the Dance [Nataraja], 11th-12th century, Tamil Nadu, India, Sculpture, bronze Technique: lost-wax casting, 128.5 h x 106.0 w x 40.0 d cm

How truly ‘public’ are our public galleries? The recent scandal over the millions of dollars paid by the National Gallery of Australia to the crooked art dealer, Subash Kapoor, has demonstrated a complete lack of transparency in the way our flagship art institution spends the money it receives from taxpapers and wealthy donors. When James … More