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Sydney Morning Herald Column

John R. Walker: Journeys and Return

December 6, 2023

“Inspiration” is a word we use in the most casual fashion, but it originally meant being under the direct influence of God. For the artist, John R. Walker, it has retained that significance. As a practising Christian, Walker believes there are paintings that are divinely inspired, the breath of God having touched something in the […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

Portia Geach Memorial Award 2023

November 27, 2023

Has the Portia Geach gone political? That was the inescapable suspicion when this year’s prize went to Kate Stevens for The Whistleblower, a portrait of military lawyer, David McBride, currently in court over breaches of the Defence Act, having pleaded guilty to leaking classified documents that detailed alleged Australian war crimes in Afghanistan. McBride’s argument […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column


November 20, 2023

In 1982, the Art Gallery of NSW hosted the show, Kandinsky, which featured 40-odd works from the Guggenheim collection. Forty-one years later, the AGNSW is hosting the show, Kandinsky, which features 40-odd works from the Guggenheim collection. Comparing the two events, the chief difference is that the earlier exhibition ran for only a month, before […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

1,001 Remarkable Objects

November 14, 2023

A childhood experience that stays lodged in my mind is seeing the Transparent Woman at the old Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Ultimo. It didn’t matter where it came from or who made it, I was simply awestruck by the spectacle of the human body with the skin removed, by the sight of […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

Hoda Afshar

November 6, 2023

For an artist to see their work on the walls of a museum today, it may not be sufficient to have talent. Hoda Afshar – whose mid-career survey, A Curve is a Broken Line, has miraculously materialised at the Art Gallery of NSW in a year which has been a desert for exhibitions – shows […]


Film Reviews December 8, 2023

The Old Oak

Ken Loach, a grammar-school boy with a law degree from Oxford, has long been British cinema’s voice of the working classes. From films such as Poor Cow (1967) and Kes (1969), to The Old Oak, Loach has delivered a consistent brand of social realism steeped in compassion and anger. At the age of 87, the […]

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Film Reviews


December 1, 2023

Only Ridley Scott might have taken on a project as ambitious as Napoleon and avoided embarrassment. If he doesn’t entirely succeed this may be because the subject is simply too vast, too complex, to be crammed into two-and-a-half hours. There are thousands of books on Napoleon (1769-1821), with new ones being published every other month. […]

Film Reviews

The Hunger Games: the Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes

November 23, 2023

It’s hard to believe it’s been eight years since the last Hunger Games movie, the fourth part of a ‘Hollywood trilogy’. Those films drew on the star power of Jennifer Lawrence as heroine, Katniss Everdeen, but the actor’s light has dimmed in recent years, the low point being the dismal sex comedy, No Hard Feelings […]

Film Reviews


November 18, 2023

Downton Abbey it ain’t. The grand estate of Saltburn may be even larger than the Crawleys’ ancestral home, but the tone is distinctly lower. In her second outing as a director, Emerald Fennell takes aim at a subject that has been shot full of holes on many occasions: the English upper classes. If Fennell’s previous […]

Film Reviews


November 10, 2023

For a director who cut his teeth making short, snappy TV commercials, Garth Davis’s features are remarkably ponderous. One wonders for how long he can subsist on the glamour of the six Academy Award nominations he received for Lion (2016). Despite the fanfare, I thought it was a very ordinary film and suspect a lot […]


Jordan Wolfson: Body Sculpture

December 10, 2023

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Jordan Wolfson’s Body Sculpture goes through an elaborate range of gestures in a half hour cycle, from the sexually suggestive to the suicidal. The National Gallery of Australia has invested $6.67 million in this work and waited five-and-a-half years for it to be delivered. Conscious of the magnitude of the gamble […]


Aboriginal Art returns to NYC (Starring Steve Martin)

October 14, 2023

When Andy Warhol said: “the best museum is Bloomingdale’s,” he was anticipating a day when art was seen as just another commodity, like a kettle or a toaster. Last month the famous showroom windows at Bloomingdale’s on 59thSt. Manhattan, displayed kettles, toasters and expresso machines covered in the distinctive patterns of Western Desert painting. It […]


Sheila Hicks

Not many people get asked by the Louvre to deliver a lecture on tapestries. It seems a reasonable request of an artist who has dominated the field of fibre art for decades, but it’s left Sheila Hicks feeling slightly awkward. While her own star has never been higher, the prestige and authority of the famous […]


Bob Edwards: A Eulogy

June 16, 2023

Bob Edwards once asked me if I’d like to be director of a wellknown art institution. I said “No”, and have no regrets, but if I had wanted the job, I know he would have worked behind the scenes to make it a reality. He did this – discreetly – for others whom he had […]

John McDonald

For over thirty years he has been one of Australia’s best-known critics. He writes a weekly art column for the Sydney Morning Herald, a weekly film column for the Australian Financial Review, and contributes to a wide range of local and international publications.


Jeffrey Smart, ‘The Bather, Bondi’ (1962)

JEFFREY SMART (1921-2013) The Bather, Bondi 1962 oil on board 49.0 x 72.0 cm signed lower left: JEFFREY SMART Provenance: South Yarra Gallery, Melbourne, 1962 Jean Parker (formerly Ramsey), Melbourne Estate of the above Amanda Addams Auctions, Melbourne, 13 April 2008, lot 285 Private collection, Melbourne Exhibited: Jeffrey Smart, South Yarra Gallery, Melbourne,11-24 November 1962, cat.7 […]


John Olsen, ‘Lake Alexandrina and Dirt Roads’ (1997-98)

JOHN OLSEN Lake Alexandrina and Dirt Roads 1997-98 oil on canvas 199.0 x 183.0 cm signed and dated lower right: John/ Olsen/ 97-98 signed and inscribed verso: Dirt Roads & Lake John/ Olsen Provenance: Savill Galleries, Sydney Private collection, Melbourne Exhibited: John Olsen: Recent Work 1995-1998, Olsen Carr Art Dealers, Sydney, 7-25 April 1998, cat.13 (illus. […]


Jeffrey Smart: ‘Petrol Station’ (1975)

March 10, 2023

JEFFREY SMART Petrol Station 1975 oil on canvas on board 34.5 x 39.5 cm signed lower left: JEFFREY SMART   Provenance: South Yarra Gallery, Melbourne (label attached verso) Private collection, Melbourne Leonard Joel, Melbourne, 4 November 1981, lot 25 Private collection, Melbourne   Exhibited: (Probably) Jeffrey Smart, South Yarra Gallery, Melbourne, 3 April 1975 (Or) Jeffrey Smart, South […]