In the archives with Lucas


The excursions with Lucas are turning out to be fun. Lucas is good company especially because he is uncommonly polite – his suggestion that I might be “hallucinating” when anyone else would have said “bullshitting” is an illustration of his politeness which hasn’t however prevented him from suggesting that I’m selling out by dealing with the art world again, a question I will deal with later in the unlikely event that anyone else gives a rats.

photo by Sacha Fernandez under Creative Commons Licence

But faced with ponderous bureaucratic might of  the AGNSW I must confess I didn’t expect to find anything much on our trip. I thought the archives might have, say, a list of proposals and then a later list without the Yeomans show. But it turned out there are several mentions, two of which are fairly detailed. That is  probably because of one of the first things you notice reading through the minutes, the fact that the Trustees in the mid 1970s were incredibly intrusive and overbearing to a degree that these days would  earn them a fail in any Institute of Management corporate governance course.

It is now taken as standard practice that boards are there to give an organisation direction, to inform policy and also to help generate necessary linkages to the wider world, particularly in the case of art institutions for fund raising. They aren’t there to dictate which exhibitions will be programmed, how the exhibitions will be managed or to vet every phone call a curator makes yet back in the 1970s that seems to be what they were doing. No wonder that a number of key staff took off to the NGA and NGV in the mid 70s including all the people involved in my proposed exhibition – Daniel Thomas, Francis McCarthy (now Frances Lindsay) and Rob Lindsay.

But as Lucas points out, it wasn’t simply my exhibition, it was presented as PA Yeomans’ exhibition with myself and Frances as the organisers. This was of course always the point, he had produced everything that was to be in the exhibition, it was just that by putting it in the AGNSW we were raising issues about cultural innovation and cultural change – that if you defined artists as the producers of cultural change then in fact they weren’t necessarily, or even commonly, going to be found in the art world. We were arguing that it was the role of art museums to cast a wider net both in terms of how they defined art and culture and who they exhibited.

It was also interesting that the backing for the exhibition went to the top. The minutes mention specifically that the director and deputy director argued strongly for the exhibition, as if they had insisted that it be noted.  The incredible thing about that is that in preceding years I had waged a very public campaign against the director, Peter Laverty, an artist and former head of East Sydney Tech, accusing him of being a timid and unimaginative bureaucrat who was not up to the job. I had such an effect that I was summoned by George Freudenstein, the Minister for Cultural Activities, to a lengthy meeting in his office to explain exactly what my complaints were. Laverty has certainly been overshadowed in public memory by his successor, the flamboyant Edmund “Fast Eddie” Capon, but it seems I owe him and his deputy director Gil Docking an apology in this case. If you ever see this Peter accept my genuine thanks even if it is thirty six years late.

The other interesting thing in the minutes, well actually there were a lot of interesting things if you understood the implications of what you were reading, was another exhibition proposal that didn’t get up. It was by Terry Smith and Ian Burn, to set up a room at AGNSW with a telex (them were the days, high tech communication at the cutting edge) direct to them in New York where they would discuss regionalism on line with all comers. I hope I misunderstood this, since they were both my friends, but sadly there seemed to be not the faintest hint of irony involved. If you read this Terry, please explain?

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