Thursday, June 27, 2013

Fag ends

Back in the late 1970s the Dowse Art Gallery as it was then was offered the opportunity to organise and open the Benson & Hedges Art Award. The Award was well established and had already been won by artists like Richard Killeen and Don Driver so the question “would we be interested?” was responded to with a hearty "would we hell." 

The icing on the cake was that James Mollison director of the Australian National Gallery and purchaser of Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles was to be the judge. To seal the deal tobacco company W.D and H.O Wills who made the B&H brand (known in the Valley as Rothmans after the cigarette made in the Hutt) invited the staff (all two of us) for a tour of the factory and lunch in the management dining room. Somewhere in there they mentioned they were targeting their marketing to get young women smoking. “Really, how interesting.” (Different times, but still the shame of it looking back). There was also a bid to have young women (girls in the Rothmans speak of the day) in short skirts handing out packs of fags at the opening. That we did stand up to.

About 500 paintings turned up to the Rothmans factory in Lower Hutt and they were trucked round to the Dowse where Mollison gallantly looked at them all and gave the award to Ian Scott. It was on this same NZ trip that he visited Peter McLeavey’s gallery and purchased four Colin McCahon works on paper for the Australian National collection (you can see them here 1-2-3-4).

And all this to show you a 1969 Harald Szeemann drawing poking a stick at one of the great cultural sponsor of the time, although incredibly Philip Morris was still giving grants totaling $9.3 million to 295 arts and cultural organizations as late as 2003.
Image: Harald Szeeman drawing done in preparation for the When attitudes become form exhibition in 1969