Smart arsed readers of The Art Life have rightly pointed out that Dr. Brian Kennedy had done more than just buy a David Hockney for the NGA in his seven years as director. He’d plonked down $7.4 million for Lucian Freud ‘s After Cezanne, the single most expensive art work purchased by the institution as well.
On the face of it that seems like a good purchase – you know, a solid work of art done by a reputable artist. It’s figurative, it uses a lot of oil paint and it’s easy on the mind – nothing as troubling as a glass of water on a glass shelf called a “tree.” No. It’s by Lucien Freud, so easy does it.
It’s a strange sensation to be swept along by a sentiment that you happen to agree with: (Lucien Freud, proper artist, big dollars well spent). But when you think about it, it doesn’t quite add up. While Freud is the kind of English painter that people tend to like, there doesn’t seem very much of anything to support that sentiment.
Reflecting the pack mentality of the Australian art world, a Freud is like an Old Master, or a major work by Picasso, where everyone dutifully gets in line to say, ‘yes, what a master work, how stunning’. When a few Freuds were included in the Leigh Bowrey show at the MCA, people weren’t saying “quick get down there and have look at a mask made to look like a c___ “, they were saying, “there some super Lucien Freuds in the show!” Like, wow. If you’re honest about it, the best you can say about Freud is that you’re deeply ambivalent. While you know it’s old school and worthy, that’s about all it is.
Meanwhile, you can read more post mortems on Kennedy at The Australian, where we’re reminded that one senate estimates committee had made the good Doctor cry. Bastards. You can also read a mysterious reference to the fact that Richard Alston “bonded with Kennedy over a mutual passion for indigenous art…” Perhaps Alston should have let someone know about his “passion” –it was after all in his portfolio.