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Thursday, 14 November 1974
Page: 2405

Senator WOOD (Queensland) - I desire to speak in a different way about this item. The sum of $4.6m has been set aside for the purchase of what is termed art. There is a terrible lot of snobbery in the art world and we get a lot of pretence from people who put forward certain concoctions that make one wonder whether one has just come out of a delirium. These concoctions are put forth -

Senator Button - I have been wondering about you, Senator.

Senator WOOD - I do not come out of them, fortunately. These things are put forward as art. I do not know how many average parliamentarians take a real interest in art. It is the same with architecture. I know that Senator Button has taken an interest in architecture. I have also. However, I am sure that in the art world there are a lot of people who would not know very much about this so-called contemporary art. As a consequence we can easily be taken for a ride in the purchase of these concoctions that come under the title of contemporary art.

I remember after we bought ' Blue Poles ' that I spoke of it as shickery art. I said then that the person who developed that particular painting must have been on the shicker. I was rather interested to see a few days later that a cobber of Pollock came out with a statement in the Press that he and Pollock were on the booze, on the shicker. Pollock started to throw paint around and he threw paint around and as a result we got the development of 'Blue Poles'. This indicates how we can be taken for a ride. We paid US$2 m for this concoction and it was supposed to be a great piece of art. I know that the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Murphy) mentioned some friend or partner of his who talked about our having a Pollock. The other Pollock items might have been done under less bleary conditions. However, this cobber of Pollock told us this publicly. It was clearly indicated that we were a bunch of suckers in Australia for having bought Blue Poles' for $2m. It was indicated that it could have been bought for a lot less.

I know that all sorts of things are said. I have talked to people about art and have been told that what I see is what the artist sees and eventually develops. When artists see these sorts of things it makes one wonder at times what sort of mental conceptions they have. What we have to think about in buying works for a national art gallery is that we are buying something for people to enjoy. Do not tell me that the people of Australia will receive a great thrill from seeing Blue Poles'. I would be amazed if that were the general feeling of the people. We have just sunk US$2m into a work of art for which nobody else would have paid the price. I know that it is easy for the people handling the sale to tell us that lots of others wanted it. We obtained it for US$2m and it is generally conceded that we could have purchased if for a lot less. Since then we have bought another abortion of a thing called Woman V. Honourable senators must have seen reproductions of it. Have they ever seen any woman looking like that?

Senator Missen - You have to use your imagination.

Senator WOOD - Senator Missentells me to use my imagination. I am a bachelor and I still have the opportunity of looking around. I would certainly need some imagination to see a woman like 'Woman V. That is the sort of thing that is being put up.

Senator McLaren - It would draw the tourists up to Mackay.

Senator WOOD - We are very fussy up there.

Senator Poyser - That is why Mackay is not going ahead.

Senator WOOD - It is a boom place. It is really on the go. As a matter of fact, it is one of the few places that have not been affected by Gough 's catastrophic treatment of Australia. If one looks at this second concoction that we have bought it makes one wonder where we are being led. In our national art gallery let us think of the money that we are spending on a few so-called works of art and how many people will see them in this city of Canberra. This year we are spending $4,600,000 for works for the art gallery. That is a very big expenditure. I am convinced that we could purchase lots of paintings- works of artthat would be more attractive to look at and would be better received by the people of Australia instead of spending all this money on a few abortions. When people look at them they must go away with a strange feeling about human nature generally.

The time has come for us to stop being led up the garden path by these so-called art experts. They will lead us anywhere. They will give us all the stories imaginable. They will kid us. We will find that here in Australia we will have a collection of items and in the years to come people will wonder what sort of people we were to buy them. In speaking like this I am not speaking from a political point of view; I am speaking as an Australian. If we are to build an art gallery let us have an art gallery that will be of some real treasure and worth to us, something that will be worth while for people to look at and enjoy. Let us go past this mad age of contemporary art into the days of the great artists. One can understand their paintings but one cannot understand what these things are. Let me illustrate the drift that is taking place. In Kings Hall there is a painting of the present Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam). If one looks at it one would think that he had just come out of a delirium. It certainly does not look like him.

Senator McLaren - You ought to have a look at some of the other Prime Ministers there, too.

Senator WOOD - At least one can recognise them. But this portrait makes one feel as though the whole place has been on the tank. I think that this money should be spent in a responsible manner. We should not be kidded along by these socalled arty people. They will take us up the garden path as quickly as possible. Let me give an instance of the pretence and the snobbery that is to be found in the art world. A few years ago in this city of Canberra an art competition was held and one of the contemporary paintings entered won it.

Senator McLaren - You have told us all that before, senator. It is all on the record.

Senator WOOD -It was said that the artist was a great genius, somebody of outstanding talent.

Senator McLaren - A little boy painted it.

Senator WOOD - It does not do any harm to repeat the story. Some of the Australian Labor Party supporters, some members very prominent in the Party and the Executive have said what they think about the art works that are being purchased. As a matter of fact, I think that Mr Jack Egerton said something about it in one of his bursts. This is not a political matter. I remind honourable senators of the great art competition that took place in this city of Canberra. The contemporary piece of art that won was called a great work of genius. It was said that the artist had wonderful possibilities. The judges' faces were red when they found out what happened. A child at home had got hold of a paint brush and had thrown paint on a board. As a joke the parents entered it in the competition. It won. It was called a great piece of genius. It was said that the artist had wonderful ability. A joke won the competition in this city of Canberra.

In my opinion, we have had a great joke played on us with the type of things that are being bought with Australian money at a terrific price, far greater than should have been paid if we had wanted to buy them at all. I think it is time we woke up, just as the people woke up to the Canberra art competition. As Senator Jessop said, let us investigate how these things were purchased, where the money was passed, who received commission and who received side commissions. Then I think we would know a little more about the story than we know now. For heaven's sake do not let us remain suckers in this world of art snobbery.

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