Friday, October 19, 2012

It’s a wrap

When Queensland chose to spend over a million bucks on Michael Parekowhai’s large bronze The world turns, you had to figure there would be some grumbling. First out of the gate was local artist Fiona Foley who played the not-made-here card-not-made-by-us card. It’s hard to believe the criticism would have been leveled at art super star Rirkrit Tiravanija (who was also on the short list) had he won the commission – it’s a close neighbour thing. 

Now it’s the turn of the new Arts Minister Ros Bates. Her first job, as she told the media back in April, was “to find out where all the bodies have been buried.” This week she’s taken the better-ways-to-spend-the-cash (i.e. on Australian artists) route and singled out Parekowhai’s sculpture as a rod to beat the previous administration's backing. 

Bates - previously a health professional and media consultant - declared the work a hangover from the previous Government’s “shocking misuse of taxpayer dollars” adding (in case you didn’t get how an art work could bring down an Australian state’s economy) “it’s this kind of reckless spending that drove Queensland into a spiral of debt.” 

Nothing new in Australian politicians (well most politicians really) giving art a good kick. Back in 1978 Canberra was set alight as MPs tried to out-do each other insulting the Colin McCahon painting Victory over death 2 when New Zealand gave it to the National Gallery of Australia. 

This time round, apart from Parekowhai’s work being used to bash a previous administration, there’s another more intriguing angle. There is a definite possibility that the Minister is using Parekowhai to try and create a good old art scandal diversion. Turns out her son is currently the subject of a nepotism scandal with a Crime and Misconduct Commission looking into his appointment to a Government job. This subject she is not so keen to talk to the media about. 

Finally, against all the stereotypes, the Queensland Premier Campbell Newman says he can see the artistic merit of Parekowhai’s sculpture. "Having had a look at the artist's impression, I rather like it myself," he told a Brisbane radio show. 

Image: The world turns being lifted out through the foundry roof and onto a truck to start its trip to Australia. Coming ready or not.