The Australian
today continues its absurd campaign to turn the late (and lurid) Pro Hart into an antipodean art legend with its hysterical reporting of yesterday’s quite unremarkable auction of a handful of the dead painter’s pictures.

In her pithy but subtext-laden opening par, reporter Michelle Wiese Bockmann persists with The Oz’s gauche agenda to use the reputation of a dead man as a battering ram to beat up on the so-called elites:

The collectors who showed faith in Pro Hart while he was shunned by the elite have been rewarded handsomely.

Weise Bockmann goes on to report that in the first auction since Hart’s death in March “some paintings sold for double the valuation, including an early painting of a grasshopper, which went for $17,800”.

You don’t need to know anything about art to understand that the spike in prices of paintings in the wake of a painter’s death says everything about the laws governing scarcity and celebrity but nothing about the artistic merit of the work.

Pro Hart isn’t going to paint any more pictures and his death drew an inordinate amount of media attention. That his prices would rise under those circumstances is as predictable as the sun rising, which makes the Daily Telegraph’sreport this morning a hilarious piece of non-news.

An auction of Pro Hart paintings has confirmed predictions that death would boost the value of his better known works. In my view, all it really confirmed is that some people who owned Pro Hart’s paintings cashed in on the desire of some other people to own the work of a celebrity name. The Tele – continuing in the same damn-the-elites fashion of its Murdoch stablemate – went on to say:

Despite being snubbed by the National Gallery of Australia, Hart was one of the nation’s best-loved artists.

This notion that something has artistic merit simply because it’s popular would, if it were taken to its logical limits, see us throwing out the art collections in our public galleries and replacing them with widescreen video monitors playing repeats of Big Brother and Lost on endless loops.

There are a lot of groovy cultural commentators who’d see some merit in that, which only confirms my theory of an unholy and unwitting alliance between the right, as represented by The Australian’s trenchant editorial line, and the allegedly progressive postmodern crowd, who believe that trash culture has as much or greater value as anything housed in a museum.

Peter Fray

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