It’s taken three weeks for him to
respond to Crikey, but Geoffrey Smith from the National Gallery of
Victoria has finally issued a denial. Speaking through an NGV
publicist, Smith denied authenticating a suspect artwork that was the
subject of controversy at a recent Deutscher-Menzies auction.

Questions
were raised about the authenticity of a small work on paper, listed in
the Deutscher-Menzies June auction catalogue as Kelly with Rifle
by Sidney Nolan. The auction house’s director, Chris Deutscher, claimed
the picture had been “screened” by two experts, including a state
gallery curator.

In an email sent to Crikey yesterday, the NGV
said: “No, Geoffrey was not the curator who ‘screened’ this work.” A
couple of hours later, the gallery sent another email, pointing out
that “the NGV has a policy that curators are not permitted to provide
authentications of artworks for commercial galleries”.

Gee,
that’s a relief. Smith, no doubt, would have taken extreme care to obey
that policy when he was helping ex-boyfriend Robert Gould build the
reputation of his galleries in South Yarra and Woollahra.

As
Crikey reported yesterday (item 5), Smith and Gould are locked in a
legal tussle over control of the $7 million art collection they
acquired during their 14-year relationship. In an affidavit filed in
the Victorian Supreme Court, Smith said he had “worked assiduously in
building the reputation of Gould Galleries”.

But Smith’s
denial about authenticating the picture for Deutscher-Menzies doesn’t
entirely resolve the matter. Whoever the curator was, the auction house
knew that it was a sensitive issue for public gallery employees to be
providing such advice to commercial dealers.

This is what
Chris Deutscher told Crikey on 15 June: “As you would appreciate,
museum curators are not encouraged to enter the commercial world with
opinions on authenticity. I have excellent working relationships with
most museum curators Australia-wide and I would like to keep it that
way. Fortunately I am one of the few dealers who can receive opinions
from curators off the record.”

Peter Fray

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