1 August 1993

AGNSW defends controversial donation scheme

AMID debate over the launch of the NSW Art Gallery's Contemporary Benefactors' Scheme, administrators defended the move yesterday as the only option to counter dwindling government support.
The controversial scheme - designed to entice younger, free-spending collectors into the gallery's circle - will be launched at a $75-a-head gala dinner in the gallery's main entrance hall next Saturday.
Amid debate over the launch of the NSW Art Gallery's Contemporary Benefactors' Scheme, administrators defended the move yesterday as the only option to counter dwindling government support.
The controversial scheme - designed to entice younger, free-spending collectors into the gallery's circle - will be launched at a $75-a-head gala dinner in the gallery's main entrance hall next Saturday.
At the heart of the art world's angst is a proposed auction on the night of works donated by Australia's leading contemporary artists, with the proceeds going back into buying more contemporary Australian art.
"Some artists have been a bit iffy about the idea," confirmed Sydney artist Rosemary Laing, who's donated one of her works now hanging in the gallery's"Strangers in Paradise" show.
"And I understand the argument: it's a disturbing trend, in that artists are always expected to make the work and mount the show for next to nothing, and now they're being asked to donate work to attract benefactors.
"This sort of thing has been going on for 10, 20 years. But this time it's the art gallery instead of, say, Artspace."
But the gallery's curator of contemporary art, Tony Bond, is adamant the move is a one-off.
He explained: "I've always been dead against the idea of getting artists to cough up in this manner. There's a lot of it goes on all the time at the alternative spaces but it's the first time we've done it here.
"However, these are modest works which don't compete with the artists'commercial practice.
"The real issue is we don't have any funds for buying contemporary Australian art because of government cutbacks."
Bond said a "massive gap" had emerged between State Government grants and the gallery's actual running costs. As a result, areas such as local acquisitions and maintenance of the collection have slowly had funds siphoned off simply to run the gallery.
The gallery's international programs had remained buoyant because they were supported by fixed bequests. But Bond says the Australian contemporary collection program has been starved of funds: "We have the Rudy Komon Memorial Fund, which produces about $25,000 a year. But that's it.
"We need at least $100,000 a year to get a decent program going."
Sydney galleries have been encouraged to book entire tables at the launch, and Roslyn Oxley and Gene Sherman are two directors who've already taken up the offer.
"I knew Roslyn and Gene would participate, but Stephen Mori has been a bit equivocal about it," Bond noted.
"I know one of his artists felt it was not an appropriate sort of thing for an artist to be doing, and I don't have any problem with that. It's a personal decision."
Mori declined to comment.
After a pre-dinner stroll around the Surrealism exhibition to the tones of a wind quartet, patrons will sit down to a menu designed by renowned Sydney chef Anders Ousbach.
Sotheby's Robert Bleakley will conduct the auction of the works of 16 of Australia's leading contemporary artists: Ian Burn, Debra Dawes, Anne Graham, Bill Henson, Michael Johnson, Janet Laurence, Rosemary Laing, Lindy Lee, Hilarie Mais, John Nixon, Bronwyn Oliver, Mike Parr, Julie Rrap, Imants Tillers, Mark Titmarsh and Ken Unsworth.
Bond expects the event to raise at least $20,000, but added: "During the evening we also hope to sign up patrons for the benefactors' program, which means a commitment of anything from $500 up."
Meanwhile, Laing sees the initiative as long overdue. "I support the event because, from a broader outlook, it's in my interest as a contemporary artist."
Caption: Illus: Art for auction...Tony Bond with a self-portrait by Mike Parr which will go under the hammer next Saturday. Picture by Ben Rushton.
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Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Publication date: 31-7-1993
Edition: Late
Page no: 15
Section: News and Features
Length: 765
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First published in The Sydney Morning Herald

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