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Sydney Morning Herald Column

Elisabeth Cummings: Radiance

September 17, 2023

It’s the supreme test of a great artist that their work never grows stale. Upon repeated viewings, conducted over years or even decades, there are paintings that retain their freshness, renewing themselves in front of one’s eyes. As it has been only six years since a survey of Elisabeth Cummings’s work at the S.H. Ervin […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

Sydney Contemporary 2023

September 13, 2023

Contemporary art is forever making statements about political and social justice, but there’s no escaping the fact that art fairs are massive commercial enterprises in which artworks are, first and foremost, commodities. Is there anything wrong with that? No, not unless you are making work that is a strident denunciation of the capitalist system. In […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

Art in Conflict

August 25, 2023

As it awaits the unveiling of its new galleries in 2025, the Australian War Memorial (AWM) has had to defend itself against hostile forces. At a proposed cost of more than $500 million the renovation has attracted criticism from architects, academics and heritage groups, not to mention the envy of other institutions that can only […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

Darwin 2023

August 19, 2023

Another hot August night in Darwin, another National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards. It was the 40th occasion this event has been celebrated at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT), and rarely has it gone off so smoothly. Things felt a little tentative last year as the industry emerged […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

White Rabbit: I Am the People

August 12, 2023

In China, art is constantly flirting with politics. It’s a game of approach-and-retreat everywhere in evidence in the new White Rabbit exhibition, I Am the People, which features 27 artists or groups of artists. It’s one of curator, David Williams’s most ambitious, most overtly political shows – perhaps not as attractive or spectacular as some […]


Sydney Morning Herald Column September 26, 2023

Zoe Leonard: Al río/To the River

Zoe Leonard’s Al río/To the River is an exhibition that will test local audiences. It’s a deeply serious, critically acclaimed project featuring many hundreds of black-and-white images, that took five years to complete. The show is accompanied by a two-volume Hatje Cantz publication, with parallel texts in English, Spanish and French, in which the artist […]

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Film Reviews


September 22, 2023

It’s no surprise that Charlotte Regan’s Scrapper should be drawing comparisons with Charlotte Wells’s Aftersun (2022): two debut features by young British directors, featuring dysfunctional fathers trying to bond with early teenage daughters. For reasons that remain mysterious to me, Aftersunhas generated an inordinate amount of gush from critics who seem to believe that vagueness, […]

Film Reviews

Everybody Loves Jeanne

September 15, 2023

There should be a special ‘Quirky’ classification for films such as Everybody Loves Jeanne. The last movie I saw that combined comedy and strangeness in this fashion, was Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann (2016), in whch a woman with a high-powered job is tormented by an embarassing father who wants to be part of everything. In […]

Film Reviews

Past Lives

September 8, 2023

It’s no surprise to learn that Celia Song’s Past Lives is strongly autobiographical, as no purely fictional tale could resist so many opportunities for dramatic or romantic cliché. The temptation of fiction is to improve on life, to fulfil fantasies and repair omissions by turning back the clock and – this time – getting it […]

Film Reviews

Ego: The Michael Gudinski Story

September 3, 2023

Michael Gudinski was a serious burner of candles at both ends. In describing the flamboyant record executive and concert promoter, most of his friends talk about his “energy” and “passion”. Director, Paul Goldman, who admits to a spiky relationship with his subject, says he set out to avoid making a hagiography. Nevertheless, this is what […]

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)

June 16, 2023

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 […]