Our man at the Drill Hall

My good friend Terence Maloon, who curated some of the finest exhibitions of recent years at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, has just been appointed director of the Drill Hall gallery at the Australian National University.

He has been welcomed in the Canberra Times with a perceptive interview by Ron Cerabona. In discussing the need for survey exhibitions of contemporary artists – the kind of thing the Drill Hall specialises in – Terence tells him: “Most national and state galleries a long time ago really relinquished any strong role in undertaking this kind of survey. It’s a very unfortunate thing, this tendency to turn cultural institutions into businesses. I think this is pervasive and its effect is dismal and very impoverishing for us.” Previously, profitable exhibitions would finance the ones that didn’t make money. ”Now, more and more, everything has to make money.”

If only cost-cutting governments would take note. Barry O’Farrell’s NSW government is one that clearly disregards the importance of cultural experience to the health of our society. Arts budgets are being slashed, for both teaching institutions and the state gallery. The view seems to be that an art gallery is just another “cost centre”, one profit-driven tourist attraction among others. It’s an outlook that places no value on the quality of curatorship.

A great curator not only has a “good eye”, a love of art and sound scholarship, but cares about the people who come to look, and how to give them a memorable experience – an experience that can be life-changing. Over many years the Art Gallery of New South Wales developed a team of curators that did precisely that, playing a vital role in raising the cultural level of Sydney and of the country as a whole.

It has now lost too many of the best of them. Last year Terence Maloon, Barry Pearce and Hetti Perkins all left. Now there’s a new round of redundancies, including Jackie Menzies, curator of the inspired exhibitions Buddha and Goddess, and Hendrik Kolenberg, the highly respected head of prints and drawings. This goes hand-in-hand with the outsourcing of the gallery attendants, a body of men and women with long experience in dealing with an art-loving public.

Government spending cuts are now putting the work of our arts institutions at serious risk, and alarm bells should be ringing.

The Drill Hall is smaller than any state gallery, but it’s a happy and creative place, and it will certainly be our first stop in Canberra in future. The ANU is to be congratulated on a far-sighted appointment. You can read the Canberra Times interview in full at http://www.canberratimes.com.au/entertainment/this-man-knows-the-drill-20121208-2b1ty.html


Just after the announcement from the Drill Hall came news that a book of Terence Maloon’s has come out in French as L’Art de Charles Pollock: Douce Raison (Hermann publishers). Yes, that’s Charles Pollock, a fine Abstract Expressionist painter and brother of Jackson. The book, first published in the US some 10 years ago, is a masterly analysis of the artist’s development and did much to restore his place in art history.

Charles Pollock died in 1988 but earlier this year, Alex and I had the privilege of meeting his wife Sylvia and daughter Francesca in Paris, where the family has lived since the 1970s. These two delightful women maintain the artist’s work through publications, exhibitions and a website, www.charlespollockarchives.com


A few days ago Alexis Tsipras, leader of the main Greek opposition party Syriza, called for a European conference to resolve the financial crisis by writing off a large proportion of the debts of the troubled southern economies. He cited the precedent of the 1953 London conference that wrote off 60% of Germany’s postwar debt, which led to that country’s economic revival. And he likened today’s austerity measures to “putting oil on fire” – a certain way to increase indebtedness. Current European experience proves him right on that.

Syriza is by far the most popular single party in Greece and has retained support by its stand against the austerity measures. I looked in vain for a report of Tsipras’s call in the Australian media. It wasn’t in The Age of Melbourne, the city with the biggest population of Greeks outside of Athens. Why would that paper be interested?


I was brought up on The Guardian when it was still The Manchester Guardian. It was the only paper our Lancastrian household took. My parents embraced its liberal values, and as a child I first became aware of national liberation struggles by reading its reports on the Algerian war of independence.

It’s now one of the world’s great newspapers. I’ve been unhappy with its failure to support Julian Assange over his decision to seek asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, a stance it took after editor Alan Rusbridger had a falling-out with him over publication of the WikiLeaks cables. But it’s heartening to know that the paper’s readers still carry the torch for freedom and justice. They’ve just voted Private Bradley Manning “Person of the Year”.

And in case anyone’s in doubt – I’m voting for Julian Assange if he stands in the Senate elections next year. More on this another time.


Geoffrey Robertson is at the Sydney Opera House on Sunday to give a talk with the rabble-rousing title “Mullahs Without Mercy”, billed as arguing “why Iran cannot be trusted with nuclear weapons”. In the context of the outrageous propaganda onslaught against Iran by the US and Israel, one wonders what he’s thinking.

In advance of the talk, Scott Mitchell and friends have put a graphic Hungry Beast-style explanation of Iran’s history on the net. You can find it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jDSMgsgd-8

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