Newsletter 400

Published August 2, 2021
The throbbing heart of Sydney

What is there to write about this week but the lockdown? And what has changed since my last rant on this subject? Only the duration of imprisonment.

I’m not ready to join the idiots marching in the streets, punching police horses and demanding their “freedom” (freedom to infect other people with a deadly virus), but I can’t help reflecting on Gladys’s complacency when she needed to close things down fast and hard. Not for the first time she was caught believing her own propaganda, imagining she had that pesky virus under her thumb. Alas, COVID-19 has proven to be a more effective Opposition than the rabble in the NSW Labor Party.

Where Gladys has succeeded is in managing to shift the bulk of the blame onto Scummo, whose inept management of the vaccination program is now obvious to everyone, no matter how much he keeps telling us he’s “ramping up” supply. Why should we doubt him? A story in the Guardian this week pointed out that workers in the Aged Care sector have vaccination rates as low as 5%. You may recall that many months ago these people were listed as top priority for vaccinations, but there is still no plan to make sure they get the jab. Judging by their record in this area it seems to be an unspoken Coalition policy that old people are surplus-to-requirements.

Our leader cannot shake his tried & true belief that there’s no need to actually do anything when you can just keep spinning. What’s the old expression? “All fun and games until someone loses an eye”.

Gladys has just announced that Sydney folk will be cloistered away for another month, which means I’m having to delay viewings of shows such as the indigenous art awards in Darwin, French Impressionism and Goya’s drawings at the NGV, and Dusan Marek at the AGSA. I’m holding off on the Metropolitan Museum show at QAGOMA, and even having to sit tight on already-written pieces on Hilma af Klint and Richard Bell.

To begin with I didn’t feel too put out by the lockdown. As I work from home most of the time it wasn’t a particular problem. But then, little by little, it began to drag. It reminded me of living in London on those grey days when the sun never emerged from behind a cloud. Although I might spend much of my time in Sydney sitting inside with the blinds down, it’s nice to know that outside the sun is actually shining. Vis-à-vis the lockdown, it would be good to think I at least had the option of going somewhere if so desired. When we are physically confined the imagination starts to roam.

In line with my usual policy of trying to turn every obstacle into an opportunity I’m dipping back into my art history looking for topics that might be interesting for readers. After Artemisia, I’ve turned to Jean-Honoré Fragonard, subject of a new book by Satish Padiyar. Fragonard is one of the most engaging artists of all time, and one of the worst documented. We know so little about the man we have to deduce a great deal of biographical info from the work. It’s a game of educated guesses that only makes him more intriguing.

For the film column I’ve tried to stay in touch with recent releases by reviewing Black Widow, the new Scarlett Johansson superhero flick, directed by Cate Shortland. I come to such movies with diminished expections but even then I’m amazed by their stupidity. Every effort to ‘humanise’ these comic book characters – and Shortland makes a huge effort – tends to be undone by the very nature of the genre. The necessity to be constantly entertaining makes them colossally boring. I’d sooner read another contemporary art catalogue… Well, maybe not.

Finally, I need to acknowledge everyone who sent me notes after last week’s non-newsletter, prompted by melancholy family duties. I often feel as if I’m shooting verbal missiles into space but it seems there is life in the virtual universe. Thank-you. I was surprised and touched by your messages.