You get the feeling with a lot of art-world types that they think a
conflict of interest is having to choose between multiple exhibition openings on
the same night. It’s heartening to know that the National Gallery of Victoria has a policy
forbidding curators from authenticating artworks for commercial dealers.

Does it also have a policy banning its curators from involvement in
commercial art businesses? It wouldn’t seem so. The NGV’s curator of Australian
art, Geoffrey Smith, has admitted in court documents that he was actively
involved in his boyfriend’s commercial gallery business, but the NGV says none
of its “ethical or work practice standards” have been breached.

A curator trading on the cachet of his public museum position to promote a
commercial enterprise is apparently OK in the eyes of his employer.

And we know that the NGV sees nothing wrong with choosing one of its own
trustees for inclusion in a prestigious exhibition of international contemporary
art, as it did with Sally Smart, one of only five Australian artists included in
Contemporary Commonwealth, the gallery’s big show that accompanied this
year’s Commonwealth Games.

Smart’s inclusion in the show fuelled much bitchy whingeing in art circles
and NGV director Gerard Vaughan was forced to defend the decision when it was
raised by one of his interstate counterparts at a closed meeting of art museum
directors from around Australia.

There are now rumours circulating that an NGV curator has recently received
a small gift of gratitude from an artist after the gallery purchased a major
work by the artist.

For all the NGV’s protestations about its commitment to probity, there is a
very strong perception that its ethics are wanting. Its reputation as a bastion of Melbourne respectability is somewhat
tarnished and it needs to get its house in order.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey