The Artful Dodger is an Outmoded Codger.

October 1, 2008 at 2:28 am (Uncategorized)

How  much do I love spring? The days are getting longer, the sun is shining, the Pacific is warming up, and everyone’s looking a lot more cheerful around Sydney these days. There was a huge pod of dolphins off-shore when I went for my run this morning; by a happy coincidence, we were heading north at the same time, so I was able to follow their progress for a whole lap. Wonderful. What a start to the day – followed by a swim in the sea, of course, and I am thrilled to report the blue, breathless days are over for another year. Good riddance, winter. The only thing you’ve got going for you is the comfy clothing. And, okay, the hearty food.

And just quickly, whilst I’m thinking about running, the great Haruki Murakami has just published a book about running, or, more specifically, a memoir of the thinking he does whilst he’s running. He still runs a marathon a year, and it sounds like he runs most days. This leads me to wonder about the connection between writing and running, because I know Don DeLillo is a runner too. And whilst I’m nowhere near in their class in either case, I too write and run. I think running is a very complementary activity to writing; personally I like it to be solitary, and it’s a great environment for that other activity that goes hand in hand with writing: thinking. I do a lot of thinking about writing whilst I’m running – how’s that for multi-tasking?! I wonder how many other writers are the same. 

But the real topic of today’s post is the director of the Art Gallery of NSW, Edmund Capon. The Review section of The Weekend Australian ran a cover story on Capon’s thirty-year term on the weekend, and the more I think about it and him, the more irritated I become. I was incensed enough this morning to send off this email to the paper first thing: 

Your cover story on AGNSW director Edmund Capon asks a very pressing question: is it time for change? Unfortunately, Corrie Perkin’s story assiduously avoids even attempting to answer it. Thirty years in any one job is suspect enough, but thirty years in the one art gallery?! Surely this is an environment dependent if not defined by the need for change. Capon himself admits three decades “shows a certain lack of imagination on [his] part.” You can say that again – I am so tired of Sydney failing to secure a single one of the fantastic exhibitions we have to go to Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra to see. We the people of NSW – the most populace state in Australia – suffer greatly because of Capon’s “relaxed environment” – complacency by any other name. “Depressingly passive” is part of how Capon characterises Sydney’s development; wow, look who’s talking, Mr Class of ’78. 

I despise these public service fiefdoms, they make my blood boil. The AGNSW is a public institution, and it’s in the public’s interest for ANY and EVERY director to step aside periodically to allow new blood to take the reigns. Thirty years ago, it was 1978 and you couldn’t order a Thai curry in Sydney, let alone view Indigenous art. Thirty years in the same job in a society that was “officially founded” only 220 years ago? Give me a break! That’s a significant chunk of time at the teat of the public purse, buddy. And three decades in a society as young as Sydney is a huge margin for change. Sydney of 30 years ago is a vastly different city to the Sydney of today. Capon, to me, represents a residual colonial element that just won’t die. He arrived from the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and proclaimed himself master of all he surveyed from the comfort of his director’s chair with its view of Sydney Harbour, and we, the poor, ignorant philistines, the barbarous and sports-mad, culturally backward Australians, must be just sooo grateful to have an Englishman at the helm these past 30 years showing us all how it’s done. Because, you know, we’re a heartbeat away from an overnight descent into savagery, left to our own devices. Must keep an eye on the convict classes, jolly good, what. 

Meanwhile, galleries around Australia consistently leave the AGNSW for dead. Their progress not retarded by this outrageous permanent tenure situation that has so stunted our city’s main gallery and its development, these other major galleries, particularly in Victoria and Queensland, are blowing us out of the water every time I look. I could shake someone, I really could, when I excitedly read about a travelling exhibition of something fantastic that’s actually making it as far as Australia, only to realise that, yet again, the work won’t be the only thing needing travel insurance. Sydneysiders will again have to make the trip interstate to see the art the rest of the world is seeing. And I love travel, don’t get me wrong, so I’ve got no problem going to Melbourne or Brisbane or even Canberra to see a great exhibition, but I do have to wonder why the biggest city in this country is always off the boil as far as securing the big ticket exhibitions goes. Whenever anything does make it to Sydney – they’re doing some great curatorial work at the MCA, for instance – we the public stampede to get in there and look at it. We want it, we’re just not getting it. 

Of all the irritants in the Capon article, the one that grinds into the back of my throat and makes me feel violent is this quote from Edmund the Emperor, in the middle of giving himself a rap: “It’s easy to find the front door, which is not always the case at other galleries.” I’m pretty sure Capon can’t take an ounce of credit for the position of the front door, and that no one’s actually dumb enough to have problems finding it or any other front door of a major public institution, but gee, I sure wish he’d take the opportunity to finally walk out it, because he’s not the only one in desperate need of a change of bloody [art]scenery.



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