REWIND: From The Australian, October 13, 2005
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’’.