13 May 1993

Art heavies rage over Sulman

INSIDE SYDNEY: This year's Archibald, Wynne and Sulman exhibitions at the Art Gallery of NSW may have closed on Sunday, but the debate rages on.
Surprisingly, the controversy has not sprung from the Archibald, but from the Sulman prize for subject, genre and mural painting.
Under the bequest from Sir John Sulman, the gallery's trustees choose an artist to select the works and judge the winner of the $5,000 prize. This year, the painter Imants Tillers had the task of sifting through more than 600 works in just one day.
But while Tillers emerged in the 1980s to join the leading rank of Australian contemporary artists, his Sulman selection has triggered a major debate.
Many Sydney art world heavyweights took the show as a slap in the face.
"It is an outrage," said the Woollahra dealer Rex Irwin. "They were the worst possible pictures, most with little or no merit.
"It was an intellectual wank at the expense of those selected - and an insult to those who weren't."
Speaking from his Surry Hills gallery, Ray Hughes declared: "I don't know what Tillers is up to, but the Sulman's just becoming a haven for undergraduate art - for people more concerned with stacking their CVs."
Irwin added: "Perhaps Tillers used the opportunity to make a political statement. But that's not what a prize is all about.
"All it did was make a fool out of the art gallery."
But the director of the Art Gallery of NSW, Edmund Capon, said the criticism of Tiller's judging was "extraordinarily pretentious".
"One expects to see the signature of the curator to come through, and good on him too. I don't have a problem if we ruffle a few feathers," Capon retorted.
He noted that Tillers represented a radical choice on the part of the Gallery's trustees, but a necessary one.
"Imants represents a different breed, a younger generation who are very active, very established," Capon said.
"They have a voice, and a right to be heard alongside the views of those more mature members of the art world.
"Personally, I didn't much like the end product either. It was rather like a fascinating chamber of horrors, with some truly fairground pictures."
However, Annandale Galleries director Bill Gregory said he "found it quite a lot of fun because it was very subversive".
"I thought it was a send-up at first. But I realised he was trying to explode the whole concept of selecting, of being a judge."
Tillers, who is mounting a show in Latvia, could not be contacted by Inside Sydney for comment.
Sue-Anne Wallace, senior curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art at Circular Quay, believes this year's Sulman was "awkward", but that Tillers has, at least, shaken things up a bit.
"The Sulman is crucial to our artistic heritage," she said, "and one thing Tillers has done is make people think about the Sulman, about where it is going."
Caption: Port: Imants Tillers ... debate continues over the Sulman.
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Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Publication date: 12-5-1993
Edition: Late
Page no: 2
Section: News and Features
Length: 604
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First published in The Sydney Morning Herald

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