Is this the first time a judge has ordered that someone be allowed to
attend a cocktail party?

Geoffrey Smith showed
up
at the gala opening of the Charles Blackman Alice in Wonderland
exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria after a bar table of nine
lawyers spent a day in court arguing over Smith’s right to be at the party.
Smith had spent two years preparing the Blackman show but after being suspended
by the gallery on 28 July as a result of an internal investigation, he had been
barred from entering the gallery.

To be accurate, his right to attend the party wasn’t the only thing in
dispute in the Federal Court yesterday, but Smith’s appearance at last night’s
event was only possible because of a judge’s say-so and it capped off a very
successful day for the curator and his legal team.

As Karen Collier reports in the Herald Sun, Justice
Marshall ordered Smith and the NGV into mediation over Smith’s claim to be
reinstated to the gallery. Pending the outcome of mediation or Federal Court
trial in September, the NGV has agreed to suspend its internal
conflict-of-interest investigation into Smith’s involvement in the commercial
gallery business of his ex-partner Robert Gould.

Smith was accompanied throughout yesterday’s hearing and also at last
night’s party by his current partner Gary Singer, Melbourne’s deputy lord mayor
and former business associate of Robert Gould.

Under the terms of the order, the NGV has also agreed to hand over all
copies of an archive of Australian art that Smith had spent many years compiling
and which he had stored on his work computer. He will be allowed supervised
access to his office to retrieve personal belongings and gather evidence for his
defence. He will also be able to approach gallery staff to prepare his defence.

This is a stunning outcome for the curator whose career has been under a
cloud for the past five weeks since it was revealed that he had made extensive
admissions in a Supreme Court affidavit about his involvement in Gould Galleries
during the 14 years he lived with Robert Gould. Smith filed the affidavit
earlier this year in his legal fight against Gould for control of artwork and
real estate acquired during their relationship.

While Smith had reason to celebrate last night, it is, nevertheless, only the
end of round one in what could well be a protracted battle.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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