This is an intriguing tale about a dispute
involving a humble art student and a very powerful figure in the Australian art
world. It involves allegations of illegal activity and raises questions about the
very definition of art.
It’s also extremely funny, although one side doesn’t think so, and the
other side has gone to ground, displaying a sudden coyness in stark
contrast to the boldness of this young man’s earlier actions, of which there is
supposedly video evidence. This matter was brought to our attention by a member of the Crikey Army,
who would prefer to remain anonymous.
The dispute involves Ash Keating, an honours student at the Victorian
College of the Arts, and Juliana Engberg, the director of the extremely hip
Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), located at Southbank in
Melbourne, just across the road from the art school. (You may recall that
Juliana was on the panel that chose the artists for the Venice Biennale.)
Our anonymous correspondent takes up the story:
A prime example of the fine line between tragedy and farce is when
someone from the avant garde morphs into a part of the establishment – and
that’s exactly what seems to be happening with ACCA Director, Juliana Engberg.
As well as doing the Venice gig she is now busily asserting her authority
over young artists and trying to prescribe what they can and can’t do.
After a recent ACCA exhibition was dismantled some of the original parts of
the artwork installation by (American artist) Barbara Kruger, rather than being
shredded, were deposited in a skip behind the gallery.
VCA honours arts student Ash Keating found the material and made an artwork
from the remnants. It was exhibited at Brunswick Art Rooms and then later
outside ACCA at the opening (last Friday night) of the “An Unquiet World”
exhibition. Keating and a collaborator documented (using a video camera) Juliana
Engberg destroying the work and dragging it behind the gallery to deposit in the
Our correspondent goes on to claim that Engberg
threatened to sue Keating and his collaborator if they continued to video her or
if they subsequently showed the footage. Engberg is also said to have told the
assembled crowd that Keating and his fellow student were being “disrespectful”
of Kruger’s original work. (One wonders how respectful Engberg and ACCA were of Kruger’s work
considering it had been thrown in a skip.)
The correspondent makes the point that “throughout history artists have
‘appropriated’ images and materials to create subversive art”, yet when
artists do the same thing in Melbourne, Engberg, as head of a
supposedly leading contemporary art gallery, gets upset. “Indeed, humour, subversion and playfulness are apparently only on the
agenda if they get official approval from the contemporary
over by her,” our correspondent says.
Crikey has heard similar reports of Friday night’s incident from other
sources and we have sent our correspondent’s version of events to Engberg and
her staff at ACCA for comment.
Kay Campbell, Executive Director of ACCA and Engberg’s long-time partner in
life, responded with the following:
“I’m afraid Juliana is currently on a plane and not contactable. I am
aware of the incident though, and what I would say in response to your anonymous
letter, is that this is a case of how real issues can sometimes be misunderstood
or twisted in the name of ‘art’. This incident is not about humour or subversion
or playfulness, and neither is it about art. It has become an issue about
illegal activity and harassment of ACCA staff and is currently under
We responded with further questions, including the following:
- What is the illegal activity you are alleging took place?
What would be illegal about someone removing rubbish from a skip?
What would be illegal about someone using a video camera to record the
actions of a public figure in a public place?
Engberg replied with this one-liner: “Hello Stephen, Kay has given you ACCA’s response.”
If any other members of the Crikey Army can throw further light on this
bunfight, please contact me: [email protected]. And I’d kill for Ash Keating’s mobile number.