Art criticism

Death By A Thousand Brushes by Geoff Harrison

If the creators of Midsomer Murders ever run out of ideas (and after 20 seasons they surely have), they could do a lot worse than attend an arts fair.  DCI Barnaby would have been kept very busy at the Affordable Arts Fair in Melbourne where the death rate, in artistic terms, was phenomenal.  I saw illustration, décor and crass commercialism but very little art.  Have a good look at the logo… it any wonder the artist has hidden her face?


One of the more appalling stands was the online gallery, Bluethumb.  It had me realizing that I’m mixing with the wrong crowd.  Yes, I have sold 2 paintings on that site, but none recently and clearly I am out of step with their main focus – colour, surface, texture.  Interestingly, the Bluethumb people gave me a wide berth whilst I was there – was it the expression on my face?  Or did they recognise me from a few months ago when they sent me false sale notifications on 2 consecutive days and I spread the word far and wide?

There were some gems in the ocean of detritus, if you were prepared to look hard enough, and I have included images of them below.  There may have been others but after an hour or so I’d had enough.  So it was off to the Hophaus Restaurant in Southbank to detox.

Shannon Smiley,  Near The Harbour Bridge,  oil on canvas

Shannon Smiley, Near The Harbour Bridge, oil on canvas

Katsutoshi Yuasa,  Tread Softly Because You Tread On My Dreams,  Oil-based Woodcut

Katsutoshi Yuasa, Tread Softly Because You Tread On My Dreams, Oil-based Woodcut

Wayne Fogden,  Le Venaria Reale,  Inkjet Print

Wayne Fogden, Le Venaria Reale, Inkjet Print

Luis Fuentes,   Home,   Oil On Canvas

Luis Fuentes, Home, Oil On Canvas

The Hard Hitting But Entertaining Critic by Geoff Harrison

If you are looking for an art critic who can make art understandable and accessible, then English born Waldemar Januszczak could be your man.  He has an easy, conversational style of presentation that I have always enjoyed.  Often humorous and witty, he is credited with doing for the arts what David Attenborough has done for the natural world.


He began his career as an art critic with the Guardian in the 1980’s before switching to the Sunday Times in 1992.  In 1997 he founded a company called ZCZ Films which has produced over 30 films covering travel, the arts and even dogs.  In his program Puppy Love from 2000, Januszczak takes a swipe at dogs and particularly their owners who he can’t stand.  From the snippet I’ve seen on Youtube, it looks hilarious.

His 2009 series “Baroque! From St Peters to St Pauls” reinvigorated my passion for the arts after a disastrous return to the workforce.  It was dark and brooding in segments, but highly entertaining and informative.  His self-deprecation is something I appreciate yet at the same time his profound knowledge of and passion for art history is clear.

But he has an acerbic tongue, or should that be pen?  His hatred of the Turner Prize is legendary dating all the way back to 1984.  “The British art establishment, having already shown unforgivable ignorance and wickedness in its dealings with Turner's own Bequest to the nation, is now bandying his name about in the hope of giving some spurious historical credibility to a new prize cynically concocted to promote the interest of a small group of dealers, gallery directors and critics.”

One year on and things hadn’t improved, ‘The Turner Prize, like the rot of the Arts Council, the rise of business sponsorship with strings attached, the growing importance of the PR man in art, the mess at the V&A, and the emergence of the ignorant "art consultant" is the direct result of inadequate government support for the arts. Forced out into the business circus, art has had to start clowning around.’  Both quotes are from The Guardian.  Of the 2014 prize Januszczak described it as “yawn-forcingly, heart-crushingly, buttock-clenchingly bad” and urged people not to go.

Unfortunately, Januszczak’s invective has also been directed towards Australian art, in particular the exhibition “Australia” mounted at the Royal Academy in 2013.  The Times seemed impressed with it, describing the exhibition as long overdue.  But over at the Sunday Times, Januszczak disagreed and described it as light weight, provincial and dull.  Yet in his most recent TV series “Big Sky, Big Dreams, Big Art – Made In The USA” he seemed to be championing exactly that kind of art – at least in the snippet I uncovered on the Net.

John Olsen                                                  Sydney Sun

John Olsen Sydney Sun

Januszczak describes McCubbin’s famous Pioneers triptych as “poverty porn” (work that one out), Fred Williams desert landscape as “thick cowpats of minimalism”, and most indigenous art as “tourist tat”.  He reserved his most fierce attack for John Olsen’s Sydney Sun describing as “a cascade of diarrhoea”.   Olsen responded by describing the comments as foolish and an attempt to put the colonials in their place.

Januszczak’s website ZCZ Films includes a shop that, strangely, contains very few of his most recent programs.  The ABC informed me they were frozen out of negotiations to screen his 2016 series The Renaissance Unchained by the BBC agreeing to an exclusive rights deal with Foxtel Arts. One assumes this also applies to his other recent films.  The Renaissance Unchained is still not available on the website.  This tends to make one feel very lonely in OZ, unless one can afford pay-tv.