Sydney Morning Herald Column

Sydney Morning Herald Column

John Berger

Thursday, May 28th, 2020 Sydney Morning Herald Column,

Art criticism today occupies one of the lower branches on the tree of literature. Most of the writing that passes under that label consists of snippets of recycled press releases, empty jargon, servile puffs and received opinions. The genre is so debased that artists, dealers and curators have begun to see reviews as advertisements. Anything […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

Art and Propaganda

Thursday, May 21st, 2020 Sydney Morning Herald Column,

“All art is propaganda…” wrote George Orwell. “On the other hand, not all propaganda is art.” He was talking about Charles Dickens, but I thought of this line when watching the new Netflix series, Hollywood, which sets out to overturn the racist and homophobic attitudes of the movie business in the late 1940s. As “art” […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column


Friday, May 15th, 2020 Sydney Morning Herald Column,

A successful artist needs more than talent. There has to be a taste – perhaps a need – for solitude. The movies portray artists as great Bohemians who carouse in bars and cafés, have fierce arguments about art and embark on passionate, doomed love affairs, but this is only what they do in their spare […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

After the Black Death

Thursday, May 7th, 2020 Sydney Morning Herald Column,

It may be a symptom of morbid curiosity but the coronavirus lockdown has generated a new interest in novels such as Albert Camus’s The Plague, and movies such as Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion. Both are speculative fictions that draw on our knowledge of the causes and behaviour of an epidemic. It’s commonplace to talk about all […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

Venus Betrayed: Édouard Vuillard

Thursday, April 30th, 2020 Sydney Morning Herald Column,

At the end of the Modernist era it became increasingly taboo to interpret an artist’s work in relation to his or her biography. Only the formal qualities of a piece were deemed relevant, with information about the artist’s life being mere gossip. The irony of course is that there are now numerous biographies and memoirs […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

Shock Therapy

Thursday, April 23rd, 2020 Sydney Morning Herald Column,

When he opened his Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart in January 2011, David Walsh warned visitors they would be shocked and offended by what they saw, but the greatest shock proved to be the almost universal enthusiasm of those first day crowds. From Wim Delvoye’s poo-making machine to Greg Taylor’s plaster casts […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

The Best Picture Revisited

Friday, April 10th, 2020 Sydney Morning Herald Column,

When he described The Resurrection by Piero della Francesca as “the best picture in the world” Aldous Huxley threw down a gauntlet for the future. This was in 1925, long before the advent of mass tourism turned great paintings into celebrities. Today nobody stands contemplatively in front of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre or […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

Can Indigenous be International?

Thursday, April 2nd, 2020 Sydney Morning Herald Column,

This year sees the first ever Biennale of Sydney with an exclusively indigenous theme. It’s not the only large exhibition to have taken this approach – the Havana Biennial has been devoted to ‘the developing world’ since its inception in 1984 – but it’s probably the most high-profile. It’s an irony that such a globalised […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

Biennale of Sydney 2020. Part 2

Thursday, March 26th, 2020 Sydney Morning Herald Column,

Another week, another avalanche of statistics about infections and fatalities. As I write, the Biennale of Sydney, which has made heroic efforts to remain open, has just announced it will be switching to a digital platform. This is a poor substitute for the first-hand experience of works of art but it’s better than a total […]

Sydney Morning Herald Column

Biennale of Sydney 2020. Part 1

Wednesday, March 18th, 2020 Sydney Morning Herald Column,

Every morning in Sydney we wake to news of cancellations and closures because of the rapidly spreading coronavirus. By the time this column appears there may be few major (or minor) venues that remain open, but – following that perennial advice about keeping a cool head in a crisis – I’m going to proceed as […]