Friday, August 20, 2010

The village people

There’s a knock-out Philip Guston in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, a Gerhard Richter that does everything you could ask of it albeit with stolid charm, a textbook Francis Bacon to remind Aussies of their uneasy relationship with the country that forcibly exported them, and a muscular Picasso that has long overcome the derision meted out in the days before his late work was given the respect it deserved. The galleries themselves might be a trifle shabby, but if you focus on the work there are some great moments to be had reinforcing Australia’s position as a grown-up participant in world art. In this respect it is like the good twin of its provincial cousin in Wellington. As we noted a couple of years ago, Te Papa has all but abandoned collecting International art unless it has a certificated connection to the home shores and its short history. 

And so we have no ongoing record of shifts in art as they have swept across the Atlantic, blossomed in New York and burst their banks in Asia. No Ed Ruscha, no Louise Bourgeois, no Andy Warhol, no Donald Judd, no Carl Andre for us, we get a portrait of a half-naked Polynesian for no other reason than she happened to get locked up in a cabin on one of Cook’s ships for a couple of weeks. After this foray Te Papa can forget the “we-can’t-afford-international-art-at-these high-prices” lament that is trotted out whenever the subject comes up. The Auckland Art Gallery on one end of the scale and the Govett-Brewster at the other have both managed to gather some significant international works from over the last 15 or so years. Not a lot, but they’re in the game. Perhaps the new director of Te Papa – who has lived in the rest of the world – will have some idea of its importance to us and re-engage with it. 
Images: One of the grown up galleries of the AGNSW