Art Essays

Newsletter 278

Published March 16, 2019
Robert Crumb - last seen at David Zwirner's NYC.

After a week in New York I feel like I’ve been away for a month. Perhaps it’s the result of going from heat to cold and back to the heat – and first day back was really hot. It might also be due to my rather desperate NY gallery-going, as I tried to see everything of interest within a few days. That meant: the Guggenheim (Hilma af Klint), the Neue Galerie (Self-Portraits), the Met Breuer (Lucio Fontana), the Met (Tale of Genji), the Whitney (mega Andy Warhol), and I’m not even mentioning the permanent collections. I also did the rounds of the Chelsea galleries, where David Zwirner – so often the most original of the big dealers – had a virtual retrospective of Robert Crumb, and by way of contrast, a show of early modern gay art, by figures such as Pavel Tchelitchew and Paul Cadmus.

Hauser & Wirth were showing Günther Förg, as they did recently at the art fair in Taipei. They’re wearing me down because he’s looking better all the time. Meanwhile Matthew Marks had a show of new work by Jasper Johns – as rare as a sighting of the Yeti!

I was watching from a distance when the NSW Opposition leader, Michael Daley, got stuck into Alan Jones over the stadium debacle. At last, a pollie has grown a spine and confronted the odious shock jock. Let’s hope fortune favours the brave in the forthcoming election, or we’ll be facing four more years of Sydney as a playground for the developers. A first glance at the Sydney Morning Heraldthis morning reveals that Lib ministers, Stuart Ayres and Dominic Perrotet are both trying to hose down conflict-of-interest scandals. Re-election would only act as an endorsement of such behaviour.

This week’s art column looks at Ben Quilty’s survey show in Adelaide, which will travel on to Brisbane and Sydney later this year. The most celebrated and reviled artist in Australia today, Quilty has become a kind of brand – as is tacitly acknowledged by the one word title of the show: “Quilty”

When people formerly heard the name “Quilty” they probably thought of the devious pervert in Nabokov’s Lolita, who makes off with Humbert’s teenage lust objet. Nowadays they automatically think of Ben, the artist-activist, who’s championed so many good causes.

Quiltyis a convincing demonstration that there’s a lot more to our Ben than the politics. The sheer quantity of work he’s got through in the past decade is impressive, and although there are plenty of misses, the hits are palpable. I’ve tried to rehearse the usual criticisms, but there’s genuine substance behind the media razzle dazzle.

The film for this week is Sometimes, Always, Never– a textbook case of “quirky” cinema, featuring the quirky Bill Nighy as a tailor devoted to the game of Scrabble and the search for a missing son. The art of this film is how these two activities are united in a family saga that bubbles with mystery and deadpan humour.

Finally, the website is starting to bulk up a little, with entries for the Good Weekend column and the Newsletter archive. I’m also starting a “Books” section which will look at the books I receive, and the ones I’ve been reading. I’ll try and keep it brief and diaristic. There’s a huge amount still to be uploaded, and as you can imagine, I haven’t got much time on my hands.