Sydney Morning Herald Column

Sydney Morning Herald Column

Richard Bell: You Can Go Now

Tuesday, October 19th, 2021 Sydney Morning Herald Column,

There was a time when every contemporary artist claimed their work was “subversive”, as if a boring painting or video might bring down global capitalism. Paradoxically, this feat was to be accomplished by selling works to museums and wealthy collectors for high prices, enabling the rebellious artist to enjoy all the benefits of a system […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

The Dance of Death

Tuesday, October 12th, 2021 Sydney Morning Herald Column,

Every era responds to a crisis in its own way. Our answer to COVID-19 has been to bunker down, trust in science, and wait out the worst of it. In the late Middle Ages, when Europe was devastated by the Black Death, it was widely believed the illness was sent by God as punishment for […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

Paintings and Music

Tuesday, October 5th, 2021 Sydney Morning Herald Column,

There’s only one way to begin a piece on paintings inspired by music – with a famous line by the Victorian aesthete, Walter Pater. In an essay of 1873, Pater wrote: “All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music.” It’s an idea that took on added significance with the development of abstract painting, particularly […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column


Tuesday, September 28th, 2021 Sydney Morning Herald Column,

When it appeared in 2011, Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, was billed as “a beautiful film about the end of the world”. The story was apocalyptic, the narrative slow and moody, reflecting the way sensations are muffled by depression. Tell a depressive the world ends tomorrow, and the reply might be, “Whatever”. Some of Von Trier’s […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

The Ugly Truth

Tuesday, September 21st, 2021 Sydney Morning Herald Column,

Ten years ago in Munich, in an exhibition of German Renaissance portraiture, I came across a startling image from 1550 of Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria on his death bed. The Duke wasn’t expiring in a peaceful, dignified manner, he was already gone. One eye was almost closed, the other staring sightlessly at an angle. […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

Flattery & Kitsch

Tuesday, September 14th, 2021 Sydney Morning Herald Column,

“Only art and science can raise men to the level of gods,” wrote Ludwig van Beethoven, in a typically grand pronouncement. For music lovers of the late 19thcentury there was no greater Divinity than Beethoven himself. Wagner may have had a cult following, but Beethoven (1770-1827) was the centre of a full-blown religion. One true […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

The Met: Art Museums in a Changing World

Tuesday, September 7th, 2021 Sydney Morning Herald Column,

While New South Wales lockdowns roll on, Queenslanders can go to Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art and view the blockbuster exhibition, European Masterpieces from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. It’s almost certainly the most impressive show to reach our heavily barricaded shores this year but the pandemic has made it hard to imagine […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

The Real Thing

Tuesday, August 31st, 2021 Sydney Morning Herald Column,

In the 1970s Coca-Cola had tremendous success with the advertising slogan, ‘It’s the Real Thing’. The idea behind the campaign may have been to distinguish Coke from its chief competitor, Pepsi, but the company was also responding to research that found “young people seek the real, the original and the natural as an escape from […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

Hilma af Klint

Friday, August 27th, 2021 Sydney Morning Herald Column,

Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) may be the biggest thing to come from Sweden since Abba but she was anything but an overnight success. Originally known as a painter of relatively conventional landscapes, portraits and botanical pictures, af Klint led a double life. Her posthumous claim to fame rests on a remarkable series of spiritualist works […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

Cool and Hot Artists: The Case of Poussin

Thursday, August 26th, 2021 Sydney Morning Herald Column,

Every era of art is defined by its divisions and contrasts and we each have our preferences. Is it possible to love Beethoven and Mozart equally? Can one feel the same admiration for Tolstoy and for Dostoevsky? What about Picasso and Matisse? In the visual arts the age-old distinction is between line and colour. Commentators […]