For the investigative team (we are
reliably informed it is a team now) looking into the extra-curricular activities
of National Gallery of Victoria curator Geoffrey Smith, it must be hard to know
where to begin.

Of course, there is his 14-page affidavit in his on-going legal action
against ex-partner Robert Gould, in which Smith claims to have played a
substantial role in building the reputation of Gould Galleries during the entire
time he was on the public payroll as an NGV curator.

Then there is Smith’s testimony in a separate court case in late 2002 in
which he denied ever engaging in “any private consultancies” and gave the
impression that he had no involvement in Gould’s art business.

Also, there are the extensive records in the NGV’s archives, detailing
exhibitions and acquisitions in which Smith has had a hand, as well as any
acquisitions in which Gould was involved, either as a dealer selling work to the
NGV or as an agent buying work on the gallery’s behalf.

Records of Smith’s travels overseas would also be worth looking at, as well
as the writings of the AFR‘s
extremely well informed auction specialist, Terry Ingram. In November
1990, Ingram reported on a New York art auction where Gould purchased a
painting by Sid Nolan, from his second Kelly series, for $277,500.
According to Ingram, Gould was accompanied by Geoffrey Smith:

“Mr Geoffrey Smith, the curator of Australian art
1900-1970 at the National Gallery of Victoria, was in the room with Mr
Gould. He buttonholed commission agents to try to establish the
identity of the underbidder. The underbidder was Sydney dealer Mr Denis
Savill who had a commissioned bidder in the room.”

Crikey has been unable to reach the normally talkative Savill for
comment today, however another source familiar with this incident tells us that
although Gould paid more than three times the catalogue estimate for the Nolan,
he still got it at a significant discount to what he would have paid had the
picture been auctioned in Australia where collectors would have understood its
true value. According to our source, Gould learnt that the picture was coming up
for auction through a stroke of luck. He was tipped off by someone in Australia
who spotted the work in a catalogue for the auction.

“This was a museum quality work – it could have gone for as much as
three quarters of a million, or even a million here,” the source said.
“The question that needs to be asked is this, did Geoffrey Smith inform
the National Gallery of Victoria that the picture was coming up for
auction? He should have.”

We have brought this story to the NGV’s attention but, as with any inquiry
relating to Smith, the gallery is refusing to make any comment while the
investigation is under way.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey