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Newsletter 360

Published October 13, 2020
Craig Handley, 'it is what is...(self-portrait)'

Another week of madness in America, with Donald Trump taking time out from his COVD-19 infection to do a quick lap of honour around Walter Reed Hospital. The more of this stuff I see, the more sceptical I become about Trump’s re-election chances. If the polls were any indication he’d already be a write-off even though we’ve come to mistrust such indicators. There’s just too much craziness, too much chaos, mismanagement and mixed messaging to get him over the line. Too much Trump Fatigue Syndrome. No matter what they say, people prefer the quiet life to a daily roller coaster ride, especially in the midst of a pandemic. I don’t think Trump has a hope of winning, although he can sure make a mess of everything on polling day.

In Australia, we’ve seen another Federal Budget that almost completely ignores the arts sector. Scummo and the gang are constitutionally incapable of seeing the arts as a contributor to the economy. They see only pinkos and arty wankers who wouldn’t vote for them anyway. You may recall that the PM’s infamous $250 million arts emergency package was aimed mostly at tradies, not artists. A further $400 million was provided to try and lure Hollywood productions to Australia, not to support local content.

One of the things I find most depressing in the Budget is that the National Gallery of Australia has apparentlty suffered a cut of $25 million (that’s slightly less than the price of four animatronic sculptures by Jordan Wolfson!) while the National Museum of Australia has been gven a $9.5 million hit. These institutions are not intended to be commercial enterprises, they are repositaries of the nation’s cultural heritage. Like everyone else they’ve been hit hard by the pandemic and now the government is increasing the pain.

Under cover of the economic crisis caused by COVID-19, there are a lot of nasty ideological scores being settled – notably with the ABC and the universities. The thought that it will now cost twice as much to get an arts degree – to study law or history – is truly disgusting. If Scummo’s vision is for a nation of drones he’s on the way to achieving that goal.

A final flourish sees a cut in the refugee intake, and a new English language requirement that will make it much harder for people to be reunited with loved ones. It’s not exactly a return to the bad old days of the Dictation Test, but it looks suspiciously like Xenophobia Lite.

As the government sows the seeds of intellectual mediocrity, the artistic version is neatly symbolised by Archibald Prize season. Although I got the wretched main event out of the way last week, for this week’s column I’m visiting the 2020 Salon des Refusés. Although I’ve long ago stopped hoping to find something truly marvellous in the Salon I wish it was a trifle more inspiring. The fun of this job is to write about complex, beautiful things, but analysing art prizes means always skating across the surface.

The movie being reviewed is Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks, a title that seems to tempt fate. Although not a complete shipwreck, it’s a piece of New York imperialism – a brittle, self-conscious production that wants us to love a bunch of utterly unsympathetic characters. The other option this week was Dirt Music, set in Esperance, W.A. Although the landscape looks great the story meanders so laboriously I finally opted for American cinematic disappointment instead of the local variety.