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Newsletter 473

Published January 9, 2023
Belinda Clark with statue by someone

Happy new year! Let’s hope 2023 isn’t as mangled as 2022. Last year began with lockdowns and gradually became more frenetic, with a sudden exposion of travel and events. Of all the flghts I took in 2022, I think no more than one was on time. Several were cancelled, and most were delayed by half an hour or more. This is how Alan Joyce earns his bonuses. Let’s not mention baggage handling.

Much as I’m hoping for a better run from the Herald in 2023, I’ve delayed posting this week because I’ve taken a week away from the column. I was hoping, however, that the paper might run the piece on New Zealand that I filed in late November, which looked at the Aotearoa Art Fair and added some more general observations. As it’s now too late to entertain such hopes, I’m pushing on.

It was a wet start to the cricket year in Sydney, with an entire day washed out at the test match. With time to sit around and nothing much to do, there was much talk about a new statue of woman cricketer, Belinda Clark, that has been installed outside the SCG. Scanning the stories that were written about this conventional, life-size bronze, I was struck by how many of them never bothered to identify the artist. There was much discussion of Belinda Clark and her record, a lot of fuss about her being the first female cricketer to be so honoured, and quotable quotes from various officials, but it took me four attempts until I found an article that named Cathy Weiszmann as the sculptor.

While it was obvious to me at a glance that Cathy Weiszmann was the artist responsible, most of the journalists seemed to assume their readers had no interest whatsoever in who actually made the thing. This is a profoundly depressing observation for anyone who would like to imagine the visual arts are steadily assuming a higher profile. Surely with a public sculpture one of the essential bits of information should be the name of the artist. Instead, we got a mass of rather repetitive information about the subject of the work and a bunch of predictable quotes from cricketing officials.

Is this a general principle when we’re looking at a figurative sculpture of some celebrity, sporting or otherwise – that people only think about the subject? Maybe the artist only becomes newsworthy if it’s a controversial, avant-garde work and the journos are looking for someone to blame? It was also interesting how few stories reproduced a complete image of the statue, usually settling for a photo of Belinda Clark draped over part of it.

I know many of you will be thinking this statue is a pretty ordinary work of art so who cares? But the fact that it is so conventional: being exactly the kind of piece most people recognise as an appropriate public gesture, seems to mean the artist is to be treated as nothing more than a tradie who has done the necessary labour. It would be much better if people had strong reactions, either for or against, but the overall response has been lukewarm. Whether or not it’s the first statue of a female cricketer should be a secondary consideration, but it seems to be the only aspect of the work deemed newsworthy.

In the age-old contest between art and sport, it’s clear that sport is the only possible winner. All the nonsense spoken about how many people go to art galleries as opposed to sporting contests takes no account of the numbers that watch sport on TV, and the multi-millions spent on broadcast rights and sponsorships. Look at the money Telstra lavishes on the National Rugby League as opposed to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, suposedly the biggest visual arts sponsorship in the country!

In the absence of anything in the SMH, I’m going to post a piece I wrote earlier this year for the Australian Financial Review, about a trip to the Pilbara taken in July. The film review this week looks at White Noise, Noah Baumbach’s Netflix adaptation of a celebrated novel by Don DeLillo. It’s a slightly awkward affair, but still compelling viewing – which is more than can be said for day three of the Third Test.