The story we
reported yesterday (item 13) about a dispute between Melbourne artist
Ash Keating and Australian Centre of Contemporary Art director
Juliana Engberg is turning ugly, with threats of legal action and
veiled talk
about the whole affair “ruining” Keating’s career.

It is now clear
why Keating is not saying anything on the record – he’s under extreme
pressure not to talk, and is understood to be fully occupied preparing a
“legal” response to the “allegations” made against him. Engberg
has also declined Crikey’s many requests to comment, however two separate
sources have told Crikey that Keating’s behaviour toward Engberg was extremely

The dispute
started when Keating removed remnants of an installation by American artist
Barbara Kruger that had been dumped in a skip at the rear of the VCA. He
re-fashioned the Kruger cast-offs to create his own artwork. He exhibited it
first at a gallery in Brunswick and then attempted to display it outside
ACCA last Friday night during the opening of an exhibition. Engberg is said to
have grabbed the work and dragged it back to the skip, pursued by Keating and a
collaborator, one of them armed with a video camera.

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A source sympathetic to Engberg gave an account of “two young, aggressive men,
(following) a woman in the dark, pursuing her with vengeful relentlessness,
pointing their weapons of media at her, and then (cornering) her in a dark
place behind a building like pack animals going in for the kill”.

I have attempted
to get Keating’s response to this, but he has let it be known that he is not
free to say anything in public. It is my understanding that Keating is deeply
shaken by the fall-out from this dispute and has taken time out to prepare a
full response to the allegations made against him.

Keating is a post-graduate student at the Victorian
College of the Arts

and Crikey has been
told that Engberg has been in contact with senior staff at the VCA, demanding a
full apology and an assurance that Keating’s video of their confrontation will
never be shown. I have sought
confirmation of this from both VCA director Professor Andrea Hull and VCA art school
dean Sue Baker. I have also asked
whether the VCA has instructed Keating not to make any public comment. Neither Hull nor Baker has responded.

Meanwhile, a legal
expert from the Crikey Army has given us an interesting insight into the
legality of taking rubbish from skips. Alex Steel, a
senior lecturer in the law faculty at the University of NSW, writes:

Bizarrely taking
stuff from rubbish bins is illegal. Technically, the law considers that
by placing property into a bin the person placing it there intends for the
property to pass to the owner of the bin. Anyone who takes it out who
does not have permission from the owner of the bin is legally liable to return
it. It is in fact theft if they take it dishonestly (ie it can
be proved that ordinary people would consider that they should have known
that they you shouldn’t do such things).

Steel also raises
another question: exactly who owned the remnants of the Kruger installation
when they were dumped in the skip?

The other
interesting point would be in finding out what the terms of the agreement
between the artist and the gallery were. Who owned the installation, the
artist or the gallery? If the artist retained property rights, the
gallery might in fact be committing theft (in addition to breach of
contract) if it failed to shred the work if the terms on which the artist
had given the work to the gallery did not grant this discretion to the gallery
(the reasoning would be along similar lines to the liability of a courier who
deliberately delivered goods to the wrong address).

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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