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Address - "Art and Social Commitment" Exhibition



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ADDRESS

BY

THE HON J S DAWKINS MR

MINISTER FOR FINANCE

AT

THE OFFICIAL OPENING OF

ART AND SOCIAL COMMITMENT

EXHIBITION

ART GALLERY OF NSW

SYDNEY

26 SEPTEMBER 198H

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I MUST SAY AT THE OUTSET THANK YOU FOR YOUR I N V I T A T I O N . I

DO NOT GET MANY SUCH OPPORTUNITIES TO SPEAK ON SUCH

OCCASIONS SO IF I DO TAKE SOME TIME TO MAKE A FEW POINTS

THEN I HOPE YOU WILL UNDERSTAND.

Those o c c u p y i n g my p o r t f o l i o are too o f t e n s e e n as the

ENEMY OF THE ARTS COMMUNITY. THERE ARE ALWAYS STORIES

FLOATING ROUND ABOUT ME AND MY DEPARTMENT'S UNIQUE

COMBINATION OF PARSIMONY AND SHEER BLOODY-MINDEDNESS.

Barry Cohen s p r e a d s a l o t of t h e m '.

So. ON THE ASSUMPTION THAT I HAVE NOT BEEN IN V IT E D HERE TO

GIVE YOU MY NOW CELEBRATED SPEECH ON BUDGETARY PROBLEMS.

FISCAL R E SP ON SIBILIT Y AND WEAK-KNEED P O L IT IC IA N S WHO JUST

WANT TO BUY POPULARITY. I SHALL RESIST MY INNATE

TEMPTATION AND INSTEAD EXPRESS THE HOPE THAT THIS OPENING

CAN BE A NIGHT WHICH. TO QUOTE FROM JACK H lB B E R D 'S

A St r e t c h of th e I m a g i n a t i o n , " can be e x t r o v e r t and

CORDIAL. FULL OF RHETORIC AND J O Y . "

Th i s e x h i b i t i o n has t a k e n some s i x y e a r s to a s s e m b l e and

PREPARE AND MUCH OF I T HAS BEEN DRAWN FROM THE STATE

Ga l l e r i e s and th e Au s t r a l i a n Na t i o n a l Ga l l e r y .

Ho w e v e r , i t has a l s o b ee n drawn from a r ange of p r i v a t e

COLLECTIONS AND THE MAJORITY OF WORKS FROM THESE SOURCES

HAVE NOT BEEN PUBLICLY EXHIBITED SINCE THE PERIOD IN WHICH

THEY WERE PRODUCED.

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T he e x h i b i t i o n t h e n r e p r e s e n t s a s i g n i f i c a n t o p p o r t u n i t y

TO R E V I E W A P E R I O D OF A U S T R A L I A N ART THAT HAS REMAI NED

UNSEEN AND U N E X P L O R E D . THE O P P O R T U N I T Y PRESENTED TO

E X A M I N E THE WORK, COMPARE I T S T H E ME S , CONT RADI CTORY THOUGH

THEY OFTEN A R E , AND PLACE THEM I N T O A H I S T O R I C A L CONTEXT

I S A RARE ONE. THE CURATOR, CHARLES MEREWETHER HAS I

UNDERSTAND DEVOTED C O N S I D E R A B L E T I M E TO PREP ARI NG I T AND

THE ACCOMPANYI NG VERY HANDSOME CA T A L O G U E . I S I N C E R E L Y

HOPE T H A T M r M e r e w e t h e r ' s WORK W I L L BE A P P R E C I A T E D BY THE

MANY THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE WHO SEE THE E X H I B I T I O N I N THE

COMI NG MONTHS.

A u s t r a l i a n p a i n t i n g o f t h e t h i r t i e s a n d f o r t i e s d i d n o t

HAVE THE CACHET OF P O P U L A R I T Y AND ACCEPTANCE THAT ATTACHES

TO CONTEMPORARY A U S T R A L I A N A R T . AT THAT T I ME OUR

P A I N T E R S , N O V E L I S T S , F I L M - M A K E R S , COMPOSERS AND SO ON,

OPERATED O U T S I D E THE SY S T E M. FEW A R T I S T S WERE E X H I B I T E D .

F ew w e r e a b l e t o s e l l t h e i r w o r k s . G a l l e r i e s a n d

I N S T I T U T I O N S LOOKED ELSEWHERE FOR T H E I R PURCHASES.

A r t i s t s s u r v i v e d t h r o u g h t h e g r a c e o f t h e i r f r i e n d s or b y

" S E C O N D " J O B S .

I n t h o s e t i m e s , d e s p i t e t h e f a c t t h a t t h e p o l i t i c a l l e f t

WAS STRONG AND W E L L - O R G A N I S E D AND THAT R A D I C A L I S M WAS

F A S H I O N A B L E , THE STATE HAD NOT DEVELOPED ANY SUPPORTI NG

I N F R A S T R U C T U R E . AND T H I N G S A C T U A L L Y WENT FROM T H I S BAD

S I T U A T I O N TO A WORSE ONE I N THE M E N Z I E S YEARS OF THE 5 0 ' S

AND 6 0 ' S WHEN ARTISTS WERE ACTIVELY PERSECUTED, RADICALS

WERE COWED INTO SILENCE AND GOVERNMENTS, AS RICHARD HALL

HAS DISCOVERED, COULD L IE AND CONNIVE TO DEPRIVE MAJOR

ARTISTS OF THE VERY L IM IT E D SUPPORT A V AILAB LE.

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I n the p e r i o d c o v e r e d by t h i s e x h i b i t i o n , the i n s t i t u t i o n s

OF THE DAY - PO LITIC AL AND A R TIS TIC - SAW CONTEMPORARY

Au s t r a l i a n art and a r t i s t s as a t b e s t a n u i s a n c e and a t

WORST A THREAT. .

There were some a d m i n i s t r a t o r s and i n s t i t u t i o n s who

BATTLED AGAINST THIS P H IL IS T IN IS M AND FEAR . . . BUT THEIR

EFFORTS WERE SWAMPED BY THE PERVADING APATHY, FEAR AND

FORELOCK TUGGING TOWARDS EUROPE.

BY COMPARISON, TODAY'S ART HAS THROWN IN THE TOWEL AND I T

IS PRAGMATIC, OPPORTUNIST AND CYNICAL. Ϊ Τ IS

CHARACTERISED BY APATHY AND A CONCERN WITH THE MARKET

PLACE.

THE ARTIST HAS BECOME A PLAYER IN A MARKET-PLACE DOMINATED

BY BUYERS AND DEALERS, AND FA CILITATED BY SUBSIDIES AND

TAX CONCESSIONS.

Lost i s the i d e a of the a r t i s t as an a c t i v i s t and the l i n k

BETWEEN THE IMAGE AND SOCIAL ACTION HAS BEEN SEVERED. THE

ARTIST HAS REVERTED TO BEING THE DETACHED GENIUS.

Our f i l m - m aker s are p r o b a b l y th e b e s t e x a m p l e of t h i s

PHENOMENA. TOO OFTEN OUR FILMS SEEM TO BE

BACKWARD-LOOKING, ROMANTIC AND UNWILLING TO GRAPPLE WITH

TODAY'S PO LITIC AL QUESTIONS. THIS IS NO DOUBT A RESULT OF

THE MARKET-PLACE SEEKING OUT SAFE INVESTMENTS AND I T I S TO

BE HOPED THAT THE SPECIAL PRODUCTION FUND CAN ADDRESS THIS

PROBLEM.

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The g r e a t p i t y i s t h a t the g r e a t p o p u l a r i t y of Au s t r a l i a n

ART AND ARTISTS IS NOT BEING EXPLOITED TO CHALLENGE AND

EXCITE THE GREY AND TEDIOUS SOCIAL AND POLITICAL

LANDSCAPE. AFTER AL L, GOVERNMENT SUPPORT CAN BE USED TO

REPRESS BUT ITS D IF F IC U L T FOR GOVERNMENT SUPPORT TO

ACTIVELY ENCOURAGE DISSENT. NOWADAYS GOVERNMENTS ARE

REQUIRED TO REMAIN AT ARMS LENGTH FROM THE ARTS WHILE

BUREAUCRATS DOLE OUT THE FUNDS TO THOSE DEEMED WORTHY. A

REVIEW BY THEIR PEERS IS ALSO INVOLVED BUT I SUSPECT THAT

THIS ASPECT IS RATHER LESS IMPORTANT THAN I T SHOULD BE.

Pe r h a p s the whole s y s t e m i s over b u r e a u c r a t i s e d and o n l y

WANTS THE SAFE BETS.

I CAN ONLY SAY THAT I HOPE THAT GOVERNMENTS WILL NOT BE

FRIGHTENED TO KEEP THIS MATTER UNDER REVIEW. EXCELLENCE

SHOULD NOT BE SACRIFICED AND THE SLOPPY AND MEDIOCRE NOT

ENCOURAGED. THEREFORE SUCH REVIEW MUST NOT CONCENTRATE

MERELY ON THE QUANTUM OF FINANCIAL SUPPORT BUT THE FUNDING

METHODS TO ENSURE THAT I T IS NOT TRICKLING DOWN TO THE

SAFE, THE CONSERVATIVE, THE NON-CONTROVERSIAL - UNLESS, AS

I SOMETIMES FEAR, THAT'S ALL THERE I S .

Th i s g o v er nm en t wants the arts to be fun and to rev up the

PO LITIC AL DEBATE.

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IN CONCLUSION, LET ME SAY HOW PLEASED I AM TO SEE THAT THE

Art and So c i a l Co m m i t m e n t e x h i b i t i o n w i l l be t o u r i n g

THROUGHOUT AU STR ALIA. THAT FACT GIVES ME A CERTAIN AMOUNT

OF PLEASURE FOR I CAN SPEAK TO YOU TONIGHT NOT JUST AS THE

Mi n i s t e r for Fi n a n c e b u t a l s o as t h e Member for Fr e m a n t l e ,

an El e c t o r a t e some 2000 m i l e s or so from h e r e .

I DO NOT RESENT THE FACT THAT SO MUCH OF A U S T R A L IA 'S

CULTURAL PRODUCT EMANATES FROM SYDNEY AND MELBOURNE BUT I

RESENT THE FACT THAT I T STAYS THERE. I SUPPOSE I T IS

CHEEKY OF A PROVINCIAL LIKE ME TO ACCUSE SYDNEY AND

Me l b o u r n e of p a r o c h i a l i s m b u t t h a t i s what has h a p p e n e d .

The Hawke Go v e r n m e n t was c o n s c i o u s of t h e s e i m p e r a t i v e s

WHEN I T REFUSED TO BOW TO PRESSURE, WHICH SEEMS TO BE

CONTINUING, TO SITUATE THE NEW NATIONAL FILM AND SOUND

Ar c h i v e i n one of t h o s e c i t i e s . I n t h e c a s e of t h a t

IN S T IT U T IO N I WOULD HOPE THAT I T CAN BECOME A TRULY

NATIONAL BODY REPRESENTED I N EACH CAPITAL CITY AND PERHAPS

IN THE PROCESS SERVE AS A MODEL FOR OTHERS WHO WOULD

PREFER TO CONFINE THEIR INFLUENCE AND A C T I V I T I E S TO THE 2

MAJOR POPULATION CENTRES.

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As A GOVERNMENT FOR ALL AUSTRALIA WE MUST BE CAREFUL TO

AVOID THE P O S S I B I L I T Y THAT THERE MAY DEVELOP OR BE

ENTRENCHED SOME MODERN-DAY COURT OF PATRONAGE, ATTRACTING

ARTISTS TO IT S LIGHT L IK E MOTHS. T H IS CAN ONLY SERVE TO

D IM IN IS H A C T IV IT Y THROUGHOUT THE OTHER C I T I E S AND TOWNS

AND, ULTIMATELY, REDUCE THE EFFECTIVENESS OF GOVERNMENT

FUNDING. AND I WOULD POINT OUT THAT WHERE A GOVERNMENT

PERCEIVES IT S FUNDING I S INEFFECTIV E THEN I T IS A SHORT

STEP TO THE EASY REDUCTION OF ASSISTANCE.

L et me c o n c l u d e by s a y i n g t h a t i f t h e r e i s a n y t h i n g I hope

THAT THIS GOVERNMENT CAN ACHIEVE IN THE FIELD OF ARTS

POLICY OVER THE LONG-TERM, THEN I T WILL BE NOT MERELY A

RETHINK OR REVIEW, BUT A RADICAL RE-ORDERING OF FUNDING

P R IO R IT IE S AWAY FROM THE FLAGSHIPS, OTHER DOMINANT

INFLUENCES AND FROM THOSE WHOSE PRIMARY A C T I V I T I E S ARE IN

THE SOUTH-EAST CORNER, TOWARDS THOSE A C T I V I T I E S DIRECTED

AT CENTRES OF PEOPLE THROUGHOUT AUSTRALIA WHO ARE AT

PRESENT LACKING IN THE POWER AND THE CAPACITY TO ACHIEVE

AND, AS A RESULT, LOSING SELF-ESTEEM AND FAITH IN

THEMSELVES TO BE CREATIVE AND TO MAKE SOME IMPACT ON

Au s t r a l i a n s o c i e t y .

I APPRECIATE I HAVE PROBABLY GONE A LIT T L E LONGER THAN THE

NINE MINUTES OR SO I WAS ALLOTTED. PERHAPS MY SPEAKING

TIME CAN BE SUBTRACTED FROM THE TEN MINUTES THE O F F IC IA L

PARTY HAS BEEN ALLOTTED TO TOUR THE E X H I B I T IO N !

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MAY I THEREFORE

. CONGRATULATE THOSE WHO HAVE PUT TOGETHER THE

E X H IB IT IO N AND ITS CATALOGUE .

. THANK YOU ALL FOR LISTE N IN G , AND

. I FORMALLY DECLARE THE ART AND SOCIAL COMMITMENT

E X H IB IT IO N OPEN.