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Newsletter 294

Published July 8, 2019
The dynamic duo in 2011

In Queensland last weekend for the Margaret Olley and Ben Quilty shows at the Gallery of Modern Art I was struck by the size and enthusiasm of the crowds. GOMA has some of the best and most adventurous shows in the country, but rarely do they attract audiences of this magnitude. It’s a testimony to the pulling power of the late Margaret Olley, who by now is a fully-fledged Aussie legend, and to Ben Quilty, one of the very few artists who qualifies as a celebrity.

It’s obvious that Queensland should simply declare Olley’s birthday a holiday. Or perhaps start an annual Margaret Olley festival. At the very least a towering bronze statue, complete with Zimmer frame. She’d be dreadfully embarrassed by it all.

This week’s art column looks at the Olley show, with some reference to the Quilty exhibition which I reviewed when it was in Adelaide. It’s no revelation that Olley’s work hasn’t made much of a dent on the evolution of Australian art, but she was unique on many counts.

I’m also including an art column on Michael Armitage’s show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which the Herald wanted in double-quick time. It’s a little shorter than I would have liked, but the clock was ticking. I hope I’ve still done justice to this very promising painter.

The film being reviewed is Mystify: Michael Hutchence – a documentary about an Aussie rock star who hit the heights and then hit a wall. I was never much interested in his band, INXS, or in the gossip column stuff, but Richard Lowenstein’s film is a sympathetic and rather sad portrait of mixed-up human being. It’s not quite the trainwreck we saw in Asif Kapadia’s Amy (2015), but these rockstar bio pics have a horrible predictability: fame, fortune, fatality. No wonder the movies about Freddie Mercury and Elton John have plunged so deeply into fantasy. It’s the only way to get a happy ending.