The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile - Tim Dou­glas

Is Glenn Lowry the most pow­er­ful man in in­ter­na­tional art? The Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art di­rec­tor cer­tainly makes a strong case. To­day, the New Yorker speaks to Ash­leigh Wil­son about every­thing from Trump to selfies (more on this in a mo­ment) ahead of the gallery’s most am­bi­tious ex­hi­bi­tion in this coun­try since that failed ex­per­i­ment in Western Aus­tralia in 2011. See our cover story on pages 8 and 9 for more. Our res­i­dent art critic Christopher Allen had some rel­a­tively strong words to say last week about the de­ci­sion to award the Archibald Prize to Yvette Cop­per­smith’s work Self-Por­trait, af­ter Ge­orge Lam­bert. (They in­cluded “em­bar­rass­ing” and “medi­ocre”). It was one of 21 self-por­traits among the 58 fi­nal­ists for the prize, whose rules state por­traits should por­tray “dis­tin­guished” sub­jects. The selfie cul­ture trou­bled plenty, in­clud­ing artists. I spoke to a hand­ful of pain­ters, fi­nal­ists and oth­er­wise, and many weren’t happy. The is­sue, one said, is not that prom­i­nent peo­ple are not mak­ing them­selves avail­able to be painted but, rather: “Artists who had done strong por­traits of prom­i­nent peo­ple they spent months track­ing down and per­suad­ing were blocked by (trus­tees) favour­ing vain (use your noun imag­i­na­tion here) do­ing f. k-all but look­ing at them­selves. Self-por­traits have their place, but the Archibald is about prom­i­nent peo­ple, not those us­ing the plat­form to gain promi­nence.” Big state­ment. A valid one? It’s hard to ar­gue with the sen­ti­ment. The Archies are about cel­e­brat­ing the best of those in art, sci­ence, let­ters or pol­i­tics. We shouldn’t for­get its ori­gins, or the cel­e­bra­tion of those fig­ures in our so­ci­ety. And surely we have enough selfies in our lives? But per­haps that’s why so many self-por­traits were en­tered; should not art im­i­tate life? It just wouldn’t be the Archies with­out a drama. Happy birth­day to Dame Nel­lie Melba, born on this day in 1861. In­ci­den­tally, Melba was a close friend of artist Nora Hey­sen, the first fe­male win­ner of the Archibald Prize. Hey­sen made waves for her win­ning 1938 por­trait of a “spoilt so­cial but­ter­fly”. Eighty years on, and, it still di­vides opin­ion. In­ci­den­tally, the paint­ing has been miss­ing for decades.

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