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Tuesday, 1 October 1974
Page: 1493


Senator CARRICK - My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, concerns the reported purchase or proposal to purchase a painting by the Dutch artist de Kooning for a reported sum of $650,000? Is the approval of the Prime Minister necessary for the purchase of a painting at a cost of such magnitude? Has such approval been given by the Prime Minister or his representative? If the approval has not yet been given, will the Minister give an assurance that it will not be given? Alternatively, will the Government arrange for the painting to be sent on tour throughout the underprivileged countries to show Australia's sense of values in a world in which starvation and disease are claiming thousands of lives daily and in which the responsibility of the affluent nations is being stressed? Finally, is it a measure of the

Government's sense of values that it pays $650,000 for a painting and has allocated a total of $250,000 for the starving people of Ethiopia for the whole of last year?


Senator MURPHY - I have some notes on this matter. They indicate that on 12 August 1 974 the Prime Minister approved of the Australian National Gallery purchasing the painting Woman V by Willem de Kooning for the sum of US$850,000 from Richard Gray, art dealer of Chicago, acting for Mrs Arthur C. Rosenberg, also of Chicago. The Prime Minister's approval was based on the expert advice and recommendation of the then Acquisitions Committee of the Australian National Gallery comprising Mr James Gleeson, Chairman, who is a painter and critic of Sydney, Mr Len French, a painter of Melbourne, Mr Clifford Last, sculptor of Melbourne, Mr Fred Williams, painter and graphic artist of Melbourne and Mr James Mollison, Director of the Gallery of Canberra. The painting was inspected by the Director of the Australian National Gallery, Mr James Mollison, during a recent visit to the United States of America. The Director inspected a number of paintings by de Kooning and obtained a wide range of expert opinion, including that of the artist himself, before he reported to the Acquisitions Committee and the Committee made its recommendation to the Prime Minister. The sum involved in the purchase is regarded as a fair market price for a work of such importance and the agreement to purchase was concluded only at the end of hard and extensive negotiation. It is also believed that the painting was also being sought by at least 2 other international museums. De Kooning is one of the truly outstanding artists to emerge since World War II. This painting represents him in his finest period at the very summit of his powers. The painting is a modern masterpiece and will occupy an important place in the Gallery's world wide contemporary collection alongside works by Pollock, Gorky, Louis, Noland, Calder and Frankenthaler

May I say that the honourable senator's suggestion about the work is not a suggestion to be accepted. If that were the case, it would be an argument for not acquiring any works of art, for not having the Opera House and for not engaging in any such activity at all. If one were to accept that kind of argument it would mean the abandonment of all endeavours. There would be no cultural development or progress in Australia. The honourable senator suggests that we should do things elsewhere. This may be the honourable senator's approach to life, but I do not think it is a realistic approach and I do not think it is a proper one. There are such works of art and there are people who believe that we should endeavour to advance art and culture throughout the world, notwithstanding that many people are suffering. Very often those who are producing the works of art are the ones who are doing more to overcome the suffering and to uplift the oppressed than those in whom the honourable senator finds his solace and comfort.







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