The Victorian National Gallery’s deputy director in charge of Australian Art, Frances Lindsay, has caused a kerfuffle among her peers by selecting an NGV trustee as one of ten Australian artists to feature in an exhibition celebrating next year’s Commonwealth Games.
Sally Smart, who has been a member the Gallery’s Council of Trustees (then chaired by Steve Vizard) since 2001, has been chosen as one of the ten Australian artists to exhibit her work as part of the 2006 Contemporary Commonwealth Land Marks exhibition – a joint project between the NGV and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.
Apparently senior staff at the Gallery who questioned the propriety of the decision were told by Lindsay that “no further discussion” would be entered into. And this is not the first time eyebrows have been raised – back in October 2002, Lindsay devoted a gallery wall to Smart’s work at the opening of the NGV’s Ian Potter Centre at Melbourne’s Federation Square.
A spokesperson for the gallery assured Crikey that there was no impropriety, saying that to exclude trustees would severely restrict the choices available for Australian exhibitions. But it’s not a very severe restriction in view of the fact that there’s only one artist representative on the Gallery’s Council.
To be fair, Frances Lindsay’s admiration for Smart’s work predates her appointment as a trustee. During her time as director of the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne, Lindsay was one of the curators who bought Smart’s works for the Vizard Foundation collection. Sally Smart was represented in Melbourne by Lindsay’s husband Robert Lindsay, who ran a commercial gallery in Flinders Lane, until January 2001.
Smart wouldn’t be drawn on any of the details of the decision, but she told Crikey that it’s a matter for the Council of Trustees and that her decision to accept a part in the exhibition spoke for itself. “I don’t turn off being an artist when I become a board member,” Smart told Crikey.
Crikey called fellow trustee Bruce Parncutt for a comment, but hadn’t heard back at the time of publication.
CRIKEY: Is it too much to expect that during their terms board members and trustees of major institutions should refrain from dealings with the institution in question? A perception of probity, perhaps?