REWIND: From The Aus­tralian, Oc­to­ber 13, 2005

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines -

RON Radford wor­ried in re­cent weeks that the buzz around his long-awaited vi­sion state­ment for the Na­tional Gallery of Aus­tralia had grown too loud. Noth­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary was in the off­ing, he protested. He even tried to ‘‘ take the sting out of it’’ with an­nounce­ments about re­cent ac­qui­si­tions of Asian art and a pro­posed pur­chase of a $20 mil­lion to $30m Kandin­sky. (The gallery was never in a po­si­tion to buy the Kandin­sky; it was just test­ing pub­lic re­ac­tion and, to that end, dup­ing the press.)

Yet Radford’s vi­sion state­ment is im­por­tant and has been eagerly awaited. The NGA has had an ap­palling few years: se­ri­ous build­ing prob­lems, a dearth of im­por­tant exhibitions, staff dis­il­lu­sion.

Radford is sup­posed to be the man to fix all this. Per­haps the sheer weight of ex­pec­ta­tion ex­plains his at­tempts to down­play this an­nounce­ment, as if he were say­ing: ‘‘ Don’t ex­pect mir­a­cles.’’ Early signs are aus­pi­cious. The main planks of the vi­sion state­ment make good sense. Yet, as we found un­der the di­rec­tor­ship of Brian Kennedy, it’s one thing to an­nounce grand am­bi­tions and quite an­other to ful­fil them. Fo­cus­ing on Aus­tralian, Asi­aPa­cific and mod­ern art world­wide is good pol­icy; it plays to the gallery’s strengths and it’s fea­si­ble.

If he is to achieve his aims, how­ever, Radford needs sup­port from his po­lit­i­cal pay­mas­ters. That may ex­plain his em­pha­sis on Aus­tralia’s ‘‘ strate­gic in­ter­ests’’.

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