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Newsletter 301

Published August 26, 2019
Ceramics from the dark side by Nicolette Johnson at Heide.

Back from New York, where one of my biggest surprises was coming across works by Pippin Drysdale and Kirsten Coelho in the Chatsworth exhibition at Sotheby’s. I’ve mentioned this briefly in the current art column, which looks at the show,An Idea Needing to be Made: Contemporary Ceramics, at Heide Museum of Modern Art. It was surprising because one doesn’t expect to see works by Australian ceramicists in a show devoted to the treasures of one of Britain’s stately homes. It was also a reminder that we live in an increasingly globalised world in which art from different eras and places can pop up anywhere. As I write, I’ve just received a notification about a catalogue for a show of art from the Congo that I saw last year in Austria…

For Australian artists this kind of globalisation is good news because it alleviates the pressures caused by the infamous ‘tyranny of distance’, but it’s ironic that those who seem to be attracting serious attention overseas are artists such as Drysdale and Coelho, or even Cressida Campbell. The other big movement is indigenous art. Another recent email was from Gagosian in Los Angeles, who are currently showing Desert Painters of Australia Part II – from Steve Martin’s collection.

None of this owes much – or anything – to the Australia Council, DFAT, or the major Australian galleries. The action is private and independent. As a rule, the choices made by Australian arts bureaucracies generally reflect their own small-pond desire to be seen as hip and cutting-edge. For instance, the Australia Council Visual Arts Award in March this year, went to Susan Norrie, who has spent years making a handful of amazingly dull videos on politically worthy topics. This strikes me as a typical choice made by a small clique. I’m prompted to mention the the Oz Co award because this month Susan Norrie was also the recipient of the 2019 Don Macfarlane award of $50,000, chosen by another group of industry professionals.

I’ve got no special beef against Norrie, but I haven’t seen a new work in ages. Indeed, all the press releases refer to old works. How nice it would be if these awards were given to people who have a really active, productive time in the studio. I could provide a very long list.

Let’s start with any of the Australian ceramicists in the Heide show. There is a resurgence of interest in ceramics at the moment and this exhibition catches the crest of the wave. There will, of course, be endless arguments about who should or shouldn’t have been included, but it’s pleasing that a museum has taken up the challenge of an international survey.

The film column looks at Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale, which has caused all sorts of controversy at film festivals, where viewers have objected to its graphic violence. This is a bit ridiculous when one considers the body count of the average superhero saga or action flick, but perhaps audiences expect female directors to only make romcoms. There’s nothing romantic about The Nightingale. It’s brutal but thoroughly impressive.

As an extra I’m adding a blog which I wrote for the current issue of The Art Newspaper, when they asked for an opinion piece on the disclosure that the CEO of Destination NSW wrote to the MCA to suggest that Yoko Ono was a “celebrity” rather than an artist. When it comes to the arts there’s much that’s rotten in the state of New South Wales, but rarely does one get the chance to expose this blight to the world. Another example of globalisation in action!