How James Mollison must smile when he hears the prices realized in recent auctions. He was the founding director of the National Gallery of Australia in 1971 (now, after a subtle bit of rebranding, the Australian National Gallery) and the man who choose Colin McCahon’s Victory over death 2 when the offer of a McCahon painting was made to the people of Australia.
Mollison also judged one of the Benson & Hedges Art Awards back in the day when tobacco companies were respectable sponsors. Even from Australia Mollison could see that the Award had passed its prime but - gracious to a fault - he gave his selection full measure awarding the prize to one of Ian Scott’s Lattice paintings.
Among his many inspired purchases for Australia are Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles, costumes from the Ballets Russes, an astonishing collection of international photography and Willem de Kooning’s Woman 5.
At a Sotheby’s auction in 1973 Mollison also arranged the winning bid for Andy Warhol’s silver screen portrait of Elvis. It cost Australia US$25,000. How he was mocked over the years for the public money he had ‘wasted’ on international art.
Well suck it up mockers. Warhol’s Double Elvis sold last week for $US37 million.
Image: Andy Warhol Double Elvis (detail)