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Sydney Morning Herald Column

Richard Bell: You Can Go Now

October 19, 2021

There was a time when every contemporary artist claimed their work was “subversive”, as if a boring painting or video might bring down global capitalism. Paradoxically, this feat was to be accomplished by selling works to museums and wealthy collectors for high prices, enabling the rebellious artist to enjoy all the benefits of a system […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

The Dance of Death

October 12, 2021

Every era responds to a crisis in its own way. Our answer to COVID-19 has been to bunker down, trust in science, and wait out the worst of it. In the late Middle Ages, when Europe was devastated by the Black Death, it was widely believed the illness was sent by God as punishment for […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

Paintings and Music

October 5, 2021

There’s only one way to begin a piece on paintings inspired by music – with a famous line by the Victorian aesthete, Walter Pater. In an essay of 1873, Pater wrote: “All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music.” It’s an idea that took on added significance with the development of abstract painting, particularly […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column


September 28, 2021

When it appeared in 2011, Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, was billed as “a beautiful film about the end of the world”. The story was apocalyptic, the narrative slow and moody, reflecting the way sensations are muffled by depression. Tell a depressive the world ends tomorrow, and the reply might be, “Whatever”. Some of Von Trier’s […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

The Ugly Truth

September 21, 2021

Ten years ago in Munich, in an exhibition of German Renaissance portraiture, I came across a startling image from 1550 of Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria on his death bed. The Duke wasn’t expiring in a peaceful, dignified manner, he was already gone. One eye was almost closed, the other staring sightlessly at an angle. […]


Film Reviews October 21, 2021

The Last Duel

Clang! Crunch! Swish! On leaving the cinema after seeing Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel, the sounds of battle still ring in one’s mind. Over two-and-a-half hours Scott unleashes a series of ferocious battle scenes, and a final showdown between two armoured combatants that leaves nothing to the imagination. As we remember from features such as […]

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Film Reviews


October 14, 2021

“It’s not a child, it’s an animal!” Or is it? After watching this strange, introverted chiller from Iceland you’ll never feel comfortable hearing someone refer to a baby as “a little lamb”. Like all Icelandic movies, Valdimar Johannsson’s debut feature, co-written with the novelist, Sjón, is strong on landscape. The screen is filled with sweeping […]

Film Reviews


October 8, 2021

Justin Kurzel may have a taste for dark, unhappy subjects, but he is a cut above most contemporary Australian directors. His first feature, Snowtown (2011), told the true story of serial killer, John Bunting, and those he drew into his orbit. It was a brutal but amazingly sophisticated debut. Ten years on, Kurzel and scriptwriter, […]

Film Reviews

Birds of Paradise

October 1, 2021

At the Paris Opéra in the late 19th century the young ballerinas were referred to as the “petits rats”. Degas’s famous sculpture, The Little Dancer, was based on one such rat, a 14-year-old named Marie van Goethem, who was dismissed from the school soon after and would never be heard from again. It’s presumed Marie […]

Film Reviews


September 23, 2021

Formula One must be the most dangerous of spectator sports. Cars reach speeds in excess of 300 kph, requiring drivers with lightning fast reflexes, steely nerves, an intuitive feel for the track – and luck. If something goes wrong with your steering column when rounding a bend at 180 kph, no amount of skill will […]


Banksy: Love is in the Bin (Again)

October 14, 2021

It may seem ridiculous that anyone would pay £1.04 million (AUD $1.95 million), for Banksy’s Balloon Girl in 2018, but it’s slightly nauseating that a half-shredded version, rechristened Love is in the Bin, should be selling for £4-6 million in 2021. One might go even further and say Banksy’s entire career is a gravity-defying absurdity, […]


The NGA gives itself a birthday present

September 27, 2021

Lest we forget, the price paid for Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles, was $1.3 million in 1973. A world record at the time, it was viewed as one of the keynote extravagances of the Whitlam government. Nevertheless, when the National Gallery of Australia opened in 1982 the painting was a major drawcard. It has since become […]


Diana: Back in Bronze

July 17, 2021

If the British Royal Family wished to underline their status as an antiquated institution, out of touch with the present day, they could hardly do better than commission a larger-than-life-size bronze statue of Diana, Princess of Wales. The bronze monument of The Great Man (and occasionally, Woman) is a throwback to Victorian times which implicitly […]


Salon des Refusés 2021

June 11, 2021

When the Art Gallery of NSW moved the opening of the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes from September to June, it was bound to have consequences for the quality of the exhibitions. The 2021 Archibald season kicks off this weekend, less than five months after the closure of last year’s shows on 10 January. This […]