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  • Writer's pictureAndrew McIlroy

Whiteshirts, postmodernists and their takeover of the AGNSW

Accepting the lucrative 2017 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize in Sydney last week Tim Storrier took a swipe at the trustees of the AGNSW, who had rejected his winning portrait of fellow artist McLean Edwards, The Lunar Savant from this year's Archibald Prize. Long known as someone thankfully not shy to speak his mind, Storrier described the AGNSW as “a governmental body that’s been taken over by a postmodernist cabal”.

Storrier is not the first prominent artist to recently and forcibly criticise the trustees and the gallery’s surging corporatised managerial approach to just about everything really. John Olsen described the decision to award this year’s Archibald Prize to Mitch Cairns for his portrait of his partner Agatha Gothe-Snape as “a disgrace”. Whilst I don’t fully agree (I actually liked the work – I’m a sucker for cad red), there has been a worrying trend where despite its tendency to openly court controversy around the Archibald each year it seems the AGNSW is all too eager to sacrifice curatorial excellence on the altar of political correctness.

Storrier had more to say, again in his clipped, understated way. “It’s all over the Western World in cultural institutions where political correctness is a very powerful influence. When you’ve got a prize like the Archibald Prize, it’s designed to be merit-based. That is almost impossible if you apply postmodern theory; identity politics comes into it. It becomes important to them that they notice the background of the artist, whether it is an ethnic person or an indigenous person, a woman, possibly transgender, and if you look at the hang for god’s sake – they’ve got a painting done by boys from Sydney Grammar prep school.” And yes, that was just dang weird.

Neither Storrier nor Olsen can justly be accused of sour grapes, really. However, can they not least given their standing be ignored? The AGNSW seems determined to dismiss criticism. I’m thinking something will give. Surely, Ben Quilty can do something from within as a trustee himself of some considerable influence. Or are the trustees emanating from the risk-averse business world and public servants with little to no art-nous running the show?

I am hopeful that this attempted white-shirts, gormless coup d’état of the AGNSW will fail. However, the recent furore over the trustees push to extend the gallery space over the Domain, not it seems to genuinely provide more hanging space but rather to provide for bigger and more lavish corporate functions does not give me much hope.

Andrew McIlroy is a visual artist, living and working in Melbourne, Australia

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