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Sydney Morning Herald Column

John Berger

Art criticism today occupies one of the lower branches on the tree of literature. Most of the writing that passes under that label consists of snippets of recycled press releases, empty jargon, servile puffs and received opinions. The genre is so debased that artists, dealers and curators have begun to see reviews as advertisements. Anything […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

Art and Propaganda

May 21, 2020

“All art is propaganda…” wrote George Orwell. “On the other hand, not all propaganda is art.” He was talking about Charles Dickens, but I thought of this line when watching the new Netflix series, Hollywood, which sets out to overturn the racist and homophobic attitudes of the movie business in the late 1940s. As “art” […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

Solitude

May 15, 2020

A successful artist needs more than talent. There has to be a taste – perhaps a need – for solitude. The movies portray artists as great Bohemians who carouse in bars and cafés, have fierce arguments about art and embark on passionate, doomed love affairs, but this is only what they do in their spare […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

After the Black Death

May 7, 2020

It may be a symptom of morbid curiosity but the coronavirus lockdown has generated a new interest in novels such as Albert Camus’s The Plague, and movies such as Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion. Both are speculative fictions that draw on our knowledge of the causes and behaviour of an epidemic. It’s commonplace to talk about all […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

Venus Betrayed: Édouard Vuillard

April 30, 2020

At the end of the Modernist era it became increasingly taboo to interpret an artist’s work in relation to his or her biography. Only the formal qualities of a piece were deemed relevant, with information about the artist’s life being mere gossip. The irony of course is that there are now numerous biographies and memoirs […]

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Blog May 28, 2020

Frank Watters 1934 – 2020

Frank Watters, who has died at the age of 86, was not only a pillar of the Sydney gallery scene for more than 50 years, he was a truly humane personality in a business that breeds sharks. Although he adored gossip and had a wicked wit, Frank held fast to his own standards. He was […]

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Film Reviews

The Great

With films based on actual people it’s always tempting to take a peek at the historical record. Fictional characters will invariably be created and genuine ones omitted, myths will be treated as facts. No-one can resist adding a dash – or a bucketload – of romance to prosaic reality. In the case of The Great […]

Film Reviews

For Sama

May 21, 2020

“We never thought the world would let this happen,” says Waad Al-Kateab, early into For Sama, a documentary she has co-directed with Edward Watts. Working as an independent journalist, Waad recorded the progress of the Syrian civil war in the city of Aleppo as the euphoria of rebellion gave way to mounting despair. The film […]

Film Reviews

Hollywood

May 15, 2020

Hollywood. The title says it all: big, brassy, and full of false promises. Although generations of movie-makers have felt compelled to pore over the industry’s dirty secrets there’s never been anything quite like the new Netflix series by Ian Brennan and Ryan Murphy. Please don’t take that as an endorsement. A typical Hollywood saga is […]

Film Reviews

Colour Out of Space

May 7, 2020

H.P. Lovecraft is the undisputed Old Master of American horror fiction. Although he died of cancer at the age of 47 in 1937, Lovecraft’s output was positively volcanic. The fantastic tales have made him posthumously famous, but he also wrote reams of poetry, and countless essays on science, philosophy, political and social issues. He ghost-wrote […]