The Summer Wind Came Blowing In…

News , Stuff Jan 23, 2007 No Comments

The hot summer wind can make things seem awfully confused. There have been several persistent rumours and weird news items doing the rounds of the art world.

A fun rumour for 2007 was that Gallery Barry Keldoulis was moving to brand new premises. This seemed plausible considering the high profile successes of a number of the gallery artists [TV profiles, permanent collection purchases, art awards etc] and the fact that GBK is one of just two decent galleries in the beleaguered Danks Street art warehouse. With old gallery slots being given over to antique shops and hire spaces, the place is looking increasingly bleak. Moving might be a wise move but it turns out that GBK is staying put. Rumour scotched.

A weird news item was the shock horror story that the Citigroup Australian Portrait Prize [a.k.a. The Photographic Archibald] has been dropped from the Archibald/Wynne/Sulman prize extravaganza. After just four years and a huge amount of public interest in the photography prize, it seemed bizarre that the gallery would wield the axe, but it all had to do with programing:

“The Art Gallery of New South Wales has reluctantly decided not to present the Citigroup Photographic Portrait Prize in 2007. This was a difficult decision as the Prize has been a popular event at the Gallery since it’s inception in 2003.However, it has proved necessary to reduce the number of exhibitions in the Gallery’s programme and this has included discontinuing the Photographic Portrait Prize.”

A petition was circulated urging the Art Gallery of NSW to ‘save’ the prize and a staggering 480 signatures were added to form letters fired off in outrage. But the CAPP has now been saved – it’s been moved to Canberra and the National Portrait Gallery, the first competition to be staged in 2008.

Anyone fancying a job in Queensland might consider applying for the directorship of the Queensland Art Gallery. Advertised in The Oz and The Courier Mail, applications must be in by February 7. Rumours persist that Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, director of Sydney’s pocket sized Museum of Contemporary Art, is the hot favourite for the job, a task which oversees the running of both the Queensland Art Gallery and the brand spanking new Gallery of Modern Art. Essential qualifications include:

– extensive knowledge and understanding of the visual arts and contemporary museum practice both within Australia and internationally;
– a record of successful leadership and the management of human and financial resources in a relevant arts institution;
– exemplary interpersonal and communication skills, together with the ability to build productive relationships with art museum directors both nationally and internationally, the Queensland Government, Arts Queensland, the corporate sector and individual arts benefactors;
– enthusiasm and creativity;
– the international reputation, credibility and networks to enable the Gallery to source outstanding exhibitions from around the world, and
– respected scholarship in a field relevant to the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art.

Macgregor must be a shoe-in.

The last odd story of the summer wasn’t so much a story as an event – the passing of renowned collector and art world philanthropist, the 78 year old James Agapitos. The Sydney Morning Herald turned to Bruce James to write the Agapitos obituary, a heart felt tribute to a friend and former employer. James wrote the book Australian Surrealism for Beagle Press, a handsome tome about the Agapitos/Wilson collection of Australian Surrealist painting.

This was a collection that James had assisted Agapitos and partner Ray Wilson in putting together and although this fact wasn’t mentioned in the obit, it was James’s purple prose that turned quite a few heads:

Some write eternity on the pavement. Others engrave it in hearts. Perhaps Agapitos’s only thwarted ambition was to be a builder. The monumentalism of the Greeks ran in his veins. The collection of Australian surrealist art which bears his name is a structure filled with claustrophobic spaces, eye-popping perspectives and design ideas to set the teeth, and the imagination, on edge. A temple. A folly. A tomb. The house of surrealism gave Agapitos entre to the art world. It proved his natural element. He brought to this place of monsters and mumbo-jumbo far more than he took, though he took a great deal: pleasure, esteem, satisfaction, respect and an almost alarming tally of neglected masterpieces.

James mentioned in the obit that Agapitos could be a cranky old bugger and noted that his depressive moods were multicoloured:

Yet was any major player in the rainbow-coloured realm of art so prone to blackness? Agapitos nudged nihilism. Even so, like El Greco’s, his black was lit within by indigos, ultramarines, burnt sienna and the ineradicable ink of numberless Aegean squid.

James’s solid work reminded us of the guilty pleasures of reading his art reviews back when he was the SMH’s art critic. Since then his writing seems to have, er… matured away from the spotlight of weekly reviews. We were not alone in noting the fecundity of his prose. As Rosemary O’Brien noted in her letter to the SMH:

Peter Roebuck, all hands [both of them] to the wheel, the title of the Herald’s most flowery writer of overwrought but oh so ornate phraseology has been wrested [temporarily I trust] from your grasp. Reading the positive obituary for James Agapitos by Bruce James had me reaching for my horticultural dictionary.

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Andrew Frost

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