Cover image of the review

Richard Bell: Dredging up the Past

10 Feb 2018
Gertrude Contemporary 2 Feb - 10 Mar 2018

In the recent rehang of the Australian collection at the Queensland Art Gallery, visitors before entering the gallery have to walk under Richard Bell’s Judgement Day (2008), which hangs on a wall above a doorway. “Australian Art Does Not Exist”, Bell’s painting declares in a nice self-contradiction because both Bell and his art are just about as Australian as you can get. And perhaps more profoundly because for the past 35 years Australian art has staked its very identity on being able to say that it does not exist.

Of course, what Bell’s work opens up is a distinction between its enunciated and its enunciation. On the level of what is said, it is true we can’t find much that is distinctive about Australian art; or it might even be said that white Australian art and culture has no right to exist because it owes so much to the original occupants of the land, which it has never even been tempted to repay. And yet on the level of its saying, Bell’s work is profoundly Australian: it is only an Australian artist who has the right to say this, and even when Bell says it we know that he is saying it only in the name of a future art of Australia, one that on some far distant day might be worthy of the name. (Why make a painting like Vincent and Gough, as here, otherwise?)

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