Monday, October 03, 2011

E.C. does it

From time to time you hear complaints about an art critic being on the harsh side, but generally these days most art writing veers from positive to neutral, and often swings into promotional. Maybe it's a reflection of the fact that so many artists are now integrated into the well-paid classes, particularly from teaching jobs, and have the respect that comes along with that standing. 

It was certainly bracing as curators to come across a full-page headline in the NBR announcing “Barrs' exhibition a patronising joke.” That was Lita Barrie putting the boot into our 1987 exhibition When Art Hits the Headlines. Back then critics like Rob Tayor and Lita Barrie and later John Hurrell took no prisoners, but even their tough judgements paled into insignificance when compared to what artists in the fifties and sixties had to swallow. 

Reading through back issues of Arts & Community last week, we came across this 1971 stinger from E C Simpson, author of A Survey of the Arts in New Zealand, slagging off Colin McCahon’s painting Victory over Death II

“[T]his appears to be the hysterical effusions of a hot gospeller at a religious revival meeting. If Mr McCahon feels psychologically impelled to vomit stuff of this kind, need he inflict it on the public? Or is it done to relieve his tension on the advice of his psychiatrist?”

For the other side. Seven years later when this painting was gifted to the National Gallery of Australia, the director, James Mollison, called it “one of the most important paintings to have been made in this hemisphere in recent times.”