Here is a National Gallery of Victoria story completely devoid of scandal but irritatingly loaded with silly hype about art as a magnet for the tourist dollar.

With less than a week to go before the close of its blockbuster show, Picasso: Love and War, this morning the NGV unveiled plans for next year’s winter masterpieces exhibition.

The Guggenheim Museum – or at least a tiny fraction of its collection – will be coming to Melbourne for the fourth exhibition in the winter masterpieces series at the NGV International on St Kilda Rd.

The exhibition, drawn mainly from the Guggenheim’s New York collection but also including some works from the museum’s branches in BilBao, Venice and Berlin, will feature many of the big names in post-war international art, including Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein, and that egregious prat Jeff Koons.

Victorian Arts Minister Mary Delahunty raised eyebrows at today’s announcement when she declared that the Guggenheim would be sending one thousand artworks to Melbourne. The real figure is actually closer to a hundred but the minister was clearly having trouble with her speech notes, also telling her audience that de Kooning pioneered action painting in the 1970s. If you say so, Minister. What’s a few decades here and there when we’re talking about the past?

The rest of the Minister’s speech was a blinding array of statistics about the impact cultural tourism is having on the economic wellbeing of marvellous Melbourne. She reported that the first two winter masterpiece exhibitions – The Impressionists and The Dutch Masters – pumped $50 million into the local economy, with much of that money coming from so-called cultural tourists, who now account for 63% of all tourists visiting Victoria.

Delahunty reminded us that the NGV’s Winter Masterpiece Series is a Bracks Government initiative (politicians playing curators), underpinned by a state indemnity scheme that “means Melbourne can host the best of the world’s art exclusively”. We were told again and again today that the Picasso show and next year’s Guggenheim exhibition “won’t be seen anywhere else in Australia”. This is supposed to reinforce Melbourne’s standing as a world-class cultural destination, but in loudly declaring their refusal to share their borrowed cultural toys with anyone else, Melbourne’s cultural gatekeepers provide further evidence of a tragically provincial mindset.

Nevertheless, the current Picasso blockbuster is a breathtaking show, and it’s worth travelling to Melbourne to see. It closes this Sunday.

Peter Fray

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