Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Putting the down in down under

Colin McCahon didn’t have it easy in New Zealand. His work was strongly supported by a small group but had a rough ride when it entered the public arena. This could come from anywhere: poets (Fairburn’s famous ‘celestial toilet’ comment), local body councilors (“I could do it in my lunch time”) and, when we gifted McCahon’s masterwork Victory over death 2 to Australia, even prime ministers (Robert Muldoon’s stupid remarks). On the other side of that stoush, however, was James Mollison the then director of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra who regarded Victory over death 2 as “one of the most important paintings to have been made in this hemisphere in recent times.”

Since then the painting has held pride of place at the Gallery often showing with Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles but now, not so much. The current director Ron Radford is familiar with McCahon’s importance - and where has he hung it? Pride of place, skied above the audio tour pick-up counter. You can see how much attention it's getting there.

OK Australia, so you don’t respect this painting any more. Here’s a thought. Give it back.
(Thanks for the head's up J)
Hamish Keith responds with some interesting background on the gifting of Victory over death 2: the gift was the initiative of myself and Frank Corner. ­James Mollison was consulted at the outset and was given the choice of Victory Over Death or Colin's original Urewera piece ­ he chose VOD - only after that was Muldoon involved. ­ Muldoon's role was ambiguous, cabinet initially turned the proposal down, but Muldoon insisted that it go ahead, possibly because he could frame it for the philistines as a prank played on the Australians. But having had several conversations with him about the gift, I believe more so because of the long term impact it would have. The gift was associated with a visit to Australia by Deputy PM Brian Talboys and the initial and critical talks on CER. ­Both Frank and I emphasized the point that a gift on this scale associated with the newly opened National Gallery would attract major Australian media attention ­ the more so in the wake of the Jackson Pollock Blue Poles row. Muldoon may have been a pig but he was no fool and he got the point.