So it wasn’t Ron Radford’s dumb idea after all. Or, at least, not his dumb idea alone.  The director of the National Gallery of Australia has been copping much ridicule (including from me) for proposing in his vision statement, issued last October, that a portion of the Future Fund be set aside to buy artworks for the Gallery’s collection.  Such an idea would only have been viable if it was intended to eventually flog the works for a profit, which would defeat the purpose of buying them in the first place given that public museums collect not just for the edification of present-day audiences but also for the benefit of future generations.  Anyway, Ron is clearly fed up with having to wear all the flak for floating the idea. In Saturday’s SMH, Radford is quoted admitting that the decision to include the Future Fund proposal in his vision statement was ill-conceived but that he put it in at the behest of his board, chaired at the time by media-buying magnate and arts patron Harold Mitchell.  “They liked it, and said, ‘Let’s show we’re thinking beyond the square'”. Mitchell and his fellow board members may not appreciate Radford publicly sharing the blame for what is widely regarded as a wacky idea.  The SMH piece, by Steve Meacham, was an extensive critique of Radford’s first 21 months at the NGA, with detractors taking him to task on various fronts, accusing him of inaction, bad decisions and political naivety.  Whatever Radford’s faults, he is certainly an improvement on the bloke he replaced, the hugely unpopular Brian Kennedy, whose tumultuous tenure saw the departure of many very talented staff and the acquisition of some absurdly expensive but underwhelming artworks, such as David Hockney’s $4.6 million A Bigger Grand Canyon.  Radford made it quite clear what he thought of the Hockney painting by hanging it on a concrete wall over a stairwell, which for my money is the most inspired decision he’s made to date.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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