I am writing in response to an item by Stephen Feneley on 13 July 2006, entitled “Can we trust the NGV board to
handle this conflict of interest?”.

Mr Feneley refers to art acquisitions made by the Vizard Foundation on
advice from a committee based at the University of Melbourne, of which Ms
Frances Lindsay was a member in her capacity as Director of the Ian Potter
Museum of Art. He suggests that “it could be argued” that as the Foundation
acquired some works from the Robert Lindsay Gallery, Ms Lindsay could be
considered her husband’s “customer” and thus be caught up in a conflict of

As I was a member of the advisory committee at that time and am now the
Director of the Ian Potter Museum of Art, I am in a position to the present some
facts in response to Mr Feneley’s speculations.

Based on my participation in the committee and my knowledge of its records,
I can state the following:

  • The committee had in place, from its outset, a declaration on
    managing conflict of interest
  • Ms Lindsay, like any other member of the committee, openly declared
    any potential conflict of interest
  • Ms Lindsay did not recommend for acquisition any work by an artist
    represented by Robert Lindsay Gallery
  • Ms Lindsay did not participate in decisions determining the rejection
    or acceptance of any work by an artist represented by Robert Lindsay Gallery

In short, the committee met the issue of conflict of interest by
anticipating it, addressing it openly and ensuring that it was avoided. This
should be neither surprising nor controversial. Staff at the Potter, operating
within the ethical guidelines of both the University and the International
Council of Museums, are doubly conscious of their responsibilities in this
regard. The pity with Mr Feneley’s piece is its suggestion that the museum
sector does not concern itself with ethics. In my experience, such issues are
constantly reflected and acted upon, not because it is a “bad look” to do
otherwise but because it is a matter of professional integrity.

Stephen Feneley responds:

no point in my item on 13 July did I accuse Frances Lindsay of having a
conflict of interest involving her husband’s gallery. I said that in
her role as director of the Potter it could be argued she was a
customer of sorts of the Robert Lindsay Gallery. While I accept
everything that Dr McAuliffe says (he is an ABC-anointed art guru,
after all), I don’t resile from a single thing I said.

It is a matter
of public record that the Potter was and remains the principal
custodian of the Vizard collection and that works collected on behalf
of the foundation were exhibited as if they were part of the gallery’s
permanent holdings. So the fact that Ms Lindsay excluded herself from
decisions about acquiring work from her husband’s gallery, she could
not have completely divorced herself from curatorial decisions about
the display of these works, and, in her role as director, she had a
responsibility to promote the entire collection, which she did with
great enthusiasm.

that Dr McAuliffe has been so generous to cast light on the
acquisitions process, perhaps he could also enlighten us as to how long
he expects the Vizard collection to remain in the care of his
institution? How long does the lending agreement between the Vizard
Foundation and the Potter have to run and what will happen to the works
in the collection after they leave the Potter’s care? I look forward to
his response.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey