Thursday, March 13, 2014

Can George Brandis paint?

Let’s hope he can. Because if he gets his way there may soon be a a lot of bare gallery walls around Australia waiting for someone to fill them. In a petulant response to the recent withdrawal of the Sydney Biennale from a sponsorship deal with Transfield, Brandis, Minister for the Arts in Tony Abbott’s government, has directed the Australia Council for the Arts to find ways of financially punishing a funding recipient who "unreasonably refuse(s) private sector funding, or … terminate(s) an existing funding agreement with a private partner”.

The Minister’s dummy-spit is a reaction to the Sydney Biennale controversy when a number of high-profile Australian and international artists said they were withdrawing from the Biennale because of the sponsorship deal with Transfield, a company that has business interests in running Australia’s refugee detention camps on behalf of the Abbott government. So if the Australia Council now introduces a requirement for its funded companies and projects to accept private sponsorship irrelevant of the ethical concerns of artists, we may soon see events such as the Sydney Biennale taking place with seriously curtailed artist roll calls. Many contemporary artists hold their political and ethical views quite strongly. There are few who ascribe to Brandis’ art-for-art’s sake worldview. And let’s be honest, most high-profile international artists do not need the Sydney Biennale (or similar Australian arts events) as much as it needs them. A 2016 Sydney Biennale with installation work by George Brandis as the main attraction is probably not what many people want. Even Branids as conceptual artist is unlikely to get many punters through the doors.

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