Audience demographics for New South Wales museums and galleries

Museums and Galleries NSW, the peak body for that sector in the Australian state of New South Wales, has just released an extensive audience survey. Entitled Guess Who’s Goingto the Gallery? A Strategic Audience Evaluation and Development Study, it’s a fascinating trove of demographic information about 32 museums and galleries across New South Wales.

Some of the top-line findings highlighted by the report’s authors include:

  •  One persistent finding across galleries and across regions is the skew towards females and towards the over 55’s in the audience base.
  • Around 2 in 3 visitors are female (rule of thumb) and nearly half (47%) of the audience is over 55’s. Both of these are over represented in galley audiences compared to the relevant ABS data.
  • Metro Audiences are younger than the region audiences (41% vs 30% under 44 years old). However the regional population is generally older than metro population (37% vs 18% over 55 years)
  • Also, it is interesting the public gallery audiences skew away from the under 35’s whereas the age group in the middle (35-54, ie: “the family age band”) are relatively proportionate to ABS data (around a third or 32%). In other words, the increase in over 55’s appears to be offset by the dip in under 35’s.
  • audiences in NSW public galleries are showing a skew towardstertiary degrees, particularly post-graduate degrees
  • Interest in the types of events, public programs and exhibitions at the gallery varies primarily by demographic segment. In general, younger audience members (under 35’s) show different tastes to older audience members, and in particular younger audiences have a greater interest in live performance and music at the gallery (whereas older audiences are more interested in artist talks and workshops), and have a greater interest in contemporary art and emerging art forms such as digital media arts.

Ben Davis on the rise of art news and the crisis of art criticism

Clement Greenberg. Image: Chicago Art Criticism

At, Ben Davis has a thoughtful and I think largely accurate description of the rise and rise of news media about the visual arts industry over the past decade – at the expense of art criticism:

The expanding market for “art news” coincided with the ballooning of the more commercial side of the art world in the ’00s: the explosion of art fairs (Art Basel Miami Beach debuted in 2002, Frieze in 2003), the rise of the “ego-seum,” the hunger of corporations to tap high-culture cachet (Takashi Murakami’s team-up with Louis Vuitton was in 2003), the triumph of art-as-investment, and the “emerging artist” wave that saw galleries harvest kids fresh out of school (Alex McQuilken’s “Fucked,” a video of the 19-year-old artist having sex made while she was at NYU, famously sold out at the 2002 Armory Show). But everything about “theory-crit” requires the reader to buy the idea that the academy is the most important tastemaking center. Thus, the commercial explosion created a space where all the stuff about the market and the social scene, institutional moves and their political ramifications, actually feels more relevant than the most “serious” criticism.

And there’s the rub, of course. Art news is more relevant than art criticism in the year 2011, because almost no-one reads or takes art criticism seriously. What mattes in the art world nowadays is the money, in the way that what matters in publishing and in Hollywood are best-sellers and blockbusters. Critics will remain interesting, insightful and even incisive, but the days when a powerful critic such as Clement Greenberg could effectively ignite and then police an entire art movement are, at least for the foreseeable future, probably over.

An interview with Anthony Gardner about biennales

Crowds outside a lecture presentation featuring Kazuyo Sejima, Venice Biennale 2010. Image: Luke Kakizaki

I’ve been away on holidays over the Christmass – New Years break, but with 2011 well and truly underway, it’s time to dust off the WordPress passsword and get blogging again.

Kicking off this year is something I’m very excited about: an interview with University of Melbourne researcher Anthony Gardner. Gardner came to my attention as a outstanding early career researcher who late last year was awarded a prestigious Australian Research Council grant to study the international visual arts biennale circuit.

It’s a subject I’ve covered peripherally here before, and one that has been dealt with by some important recent books I’ve mentioned here such as Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art World and Thompson’s The $12 Million Stuffed Shark.

I emailed Anthony before Christmas with some questions in bold; below are his responses:


Anthony Gardner in 2010. Image: Anthony Gardner.

Can you tell me briefly what you’ll be researching?

The main and overt subject matter is the development of so-called “mega-exhibitions” worldwide since the Second World War: the biennales, triennales, quadrennials, quinquennials and so on that have emerged in places as diverse as Dakar in Senegal, Tirana in Albania or Guangzhou in China. These perennial exhibitions – perhaps we should really call them perennales, no matter how uglythe word – have been one of the main driving forces in the display, production and thinking of art in the last 40 years or so, and what I want to track with this project (together with my co-investigator, Charles Green at the University of Melbourne) are three (maybe even four) waves of biennialisation that have emerged since the development of the Venice Biennale in 1895. This wouldcomprise a first wave in the late 19th century, a second in the 1950s to the mid 1980s, a third from the early 1990s on, and if there is indeed a fourth, then it is only in recent years as biennales have supposedly begun to decline and become discursive, have reflected on their own conditions, as they age.
The more meaty subject, however, is the shift and changes that histories of exhibition and curatorship have brought (and on occasions wrought) on art history, and how the ideologies driving these exhibitions signify important shifts from “world art” and its grounding in internationalism, to globalism and globalisation in art and culture, and the re-emergence of regional and very localfoci amid the global. What complications do histories of art’s display present to our usual understandings of the history of art works as discrete entities? And how can a broad yet thorough understanding of these waves of biennialisation provide us with a richer of art’s globalisation through the twentieth century?

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The Australia Council turns its back on contemporary culture … again

The Australia Council has just released a major new piece of audience research. Entitled More than bums on seats: Australian participation in the arts, it’s a weighty and significant contribution to the field which features statistically significant market research surveys of more than 3,000 ordinary Australians.

Unfortunately, it suffers from some of the typical prejudices and problems of so much Australia Council policy and research.

Most notable is the definition of “the arts.” Perhaps for reasons of funding, or perhaps for political reasons, the research has defined “the arts” in a very narrow sense, essentially confining “the arts” to music, writing, visual arts and performance. Film and television – according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the most popularly consumed form of culture – are ignored, and, astonishingly, so are the digital arts and cultural expressions, like gaming.

It’s hard to believe that after all the debate and criticism of  the Australia Council’s recent history by people like Keith Gallasch, Marcus Westbury and myself, when it comes to the most significant piece of audience research by the agency in a decade, vast swathes of Australia cultural participation are simply ignored. But it’s happened. Again.

Here is the relevant paragraph, on page 13 of the report:

The focus of the study is upon the art forms that are supported by the Australia Council (visual arts and crafts, music, dance, theatre, literature). The definitions were agreed after a thorough consultation within the Australia Council and with key stakeholders.

So there you go: “the arts” are what the Australia Council funds. Unfortunately, this not only leaves out the most important cultural expression of the 20th century (cinema), it also ignores many of the important emerging cultural expressions of the 21st (gaming and digital culture). Sure, there are some cursory reference to “digital/video art” in the visual arts section, but you won’t actually find the words “games” or “gaming” anywhere in the report. Gobsmacking.

Moreover, it seems like a step back from recent well-intentioned efforts by OzCo to address digital culture. After looking at today’s  effort, one has to ask why the Australia Council even bothers with its “Arts Content for the Digital Era” strategy if it’s not going to bother to measure the most important forms of interactive digital culture.

It’s not that this isn’t a highly informative piece of research. Like the last such exercise, the Saatchi research report from the early 2000s, More than bums on seats represents important new data on the state of cultural participation in this country. I”ll be delving into it in more detail this week.

Still, it’s another piece of evidence of the ostrich-headed policy direction of the Australia Council under Kathy Keele. More than bums on seats is rather less than the full picture of cultural participation. What a shame.

Bejmain Genocchio on Avital Oz in the New York Times



Avital Oz's “Linkage” (1982), left, and “Black Sun” (1980), from Benjamin Genocchio's review of his retrospective in the New York Times, courtesy of Art Sites.

Australian visual art audiences will no doubt be pleased to see art Australian critic Benjamin Genocchio writing for thew New York Times.

In a recent article, Genocchio reviews the work of noted minimalist Avital Oz, a former protege of Sol Le Witt. It’s typical of Genocchio’s stylish yet understated prose, which makes him one of our best art writers.

For those interested in Genocchio as a critic and writer, the ABC’s Ally Moore interviewed him last year (click forward to 19 minutes in the sound file). The interview canvasses resale royalty rights and why Genocchio thinks that any droit de suite will only benefit the estates of the top few artists. His most recent book is Dollar Dreaming, about the Australian Aboriginal visual art market.

Hazlehurst Regional Gallery’s Sylvania Waters Project


The Kingpins' "Unstill Life" (detail), 2009, from the exhibition page on Facebook

Tonight the ABC screened a documentary on a recent exhibition at Hazlehurst Regional Gallery in southern Sydney entitled “Reality Check”.

It’s a brief but interesting exploration of the curatorial process and ensuing artworks produced as a part of  this exhibition, which was commissioned by Hazlehurst’s curator,  Daniel Mudie Cunningham, and based around responses to the original Sylvania Waters TV series from 1992.

I haven’t seen the exhibition so I can’t comment on the artworks exhibited, but I thought the documentary raised (though lacked the length to explore) some interesting issues. To begin with, let’s look at the artists selected for the show: Mitch Cairns, Carla Cescon, Peter Cooley, John A. Douglas, The Kingpins, David Lawrey & Jaki Middleton, Luis Martinez, Archie Moore, Ms & Mr, Elvis Richardson, and Holly Williams. Sadly, we don’t get to meet all of them. But as a group, it’s collectively what you might call mid-level contemporary artists, some of whom, like Archie Moore and Luiz Martinez, have real talent and artistic credibility, and some of whom, like The Kingpins, I’ve always thought were better known for their splashy performances and canny artistic positioning than for any ground-breaking originality. I found myself wondering what an older, more established artist might have made of the project … or was I perhaps merely curious as to what happens to all the up-and-coming Primavera stars in 15 years time?

The documentary gives us an interesting snapshot of the artistic process in the 2000’s in Australia. One thing I immediately noticed was the run-down condition of the houses many of the artists lived in, hinting at the often penurious circumstances of working artists, even if few nowadays are prepared to take the next step and attempt a class analysis.

We also get to see some intelligent discussion of the original TV series by Catherine Lumby, who I would love to see doing more television and blogging, as well as some photogenic curatorial glosses from Mudie Cunningham.

Overall, the documentary left me a little disappointed. Perhaps it was always difficult to address so much in 25 minutes, but I don’t feel as though – on the basis of the documentary – that many of the artists really engaged with the subject matter at hand. The exceptions are John A. Douglas, who presents an impressively humane perspective on the difficulties faced by the Donaher family, and Luiz Martinez, who painted a scene from the original TV show that beckons an almost Hopper-esque tabluex of ordinary life.

Ben Lewis’ The Great Contemporary Art Bubble

Tonight ABC2 screened Ben Lewis‘ documentary The Great Contemporary Art Bubble.

It’s a compelling contemporary history of the bubble in contemporary art between 2003-2008 and the dumb money and savvy art world insiders who enabled it to happen.

This is both a vital piece of contemporary art journalism and a fine exploration of the darker side of the art world itself. Lewis argues that key dealers and galleries colluded to routinely bid up prices for hot contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst. Featuring important on-the-record interviews with leading dealers, collectors and critics, including Jim Chanos (though, unsurprisingly, not those at the centre of the art world rumours – Sotheby’s, Jay Jopling, Larry Gagosian and Hirst himself).


Waldemar Januszczak reviews Gregor Muir’s book on YBA’s

One of my favourite critics, the eloquent

Where all this becomes pertinent rather than self-pitying is in colouring in the grim social landscape from which the YBAs emerged. The class angers that triggered this emergence have never been properly understood for the simple reason that most art commentators come from somewhere very different. The divide between the Tate crowd and this crowd was positively Dickensian. Hirst, from Leeds, was the son of a single Irish mum and an unknown itinerant father. Emin’s dad was a Turkish Cypriot, and the neighbours in Margate regularly abused her mother as a “darkie-lover”. Sarah Lucas grew up in the Holloway Road and was a classic north London layabout with a huge mouth and a tiny education.

No cast list as dysfunctional as this had ever been ushered onto the stage of British art before. Nor was anyone actually ushering them onto the stage this time. The entire YBA phenomenon is presented here as an outrageous display of gate-crashing. Finding their own spaces, putting on their own shows, cobbling together home-made art from whatever was at hand in the local skip, making their own posters, deciding on their own subject matter, blagging their way into derelict properties, hunting down the free beer, the great unwashed had found a smuggler’s route into the art world.

The Resale Royalty Right for Visual Artists Bill 2008

The Parliamentary Library has published a fantastic primer (called a “Bills Digest“) on Peter Garrett’s Resale Royalty Bill.

As usual with the Library, it contains a thorough analysis of the history and intellectual arguments for and against the bill, as well as a useful reference section. This is probably the best review document for the entire resale royalty debate. The digest concludes:

As can been seen from the ‘Background’ section of this digest there have been a number of formal inquiries into the issue of a resale royalty right.  Some have made recommendations in favour of a resale royalty scheme such as the one proposed by this Bill, and others, in particular the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts as recently as 2007, did not.  Furthermore, even within the art world, there are mixed views about whether the proposed scheme will ensure that resale royalties actually reach those to whom they should be paid.

Another interesting aspect of the bill is the legal definition it gives to ‘works of graphic or plastic art’ – which the bill states as “pictures, collages, paintings, drawings, engravings, prints, lithographs, sculptures, tapestries, ceramics, glassware and photographs.” I wonder where installations or sound and video art fit in here? (Bear in mind of course that moving images and phonographic recordings are covered by their own copyrights).

Australian cultural policy: an essay by me at

Over the 2008-09 summer break, my colleagues at ran a special series on the state of Australian culture. It’s one of the best short courses you can find online on the Australian cultural sector, including some fascinating pieces by noteworthy writes such as Andrew Frost, Ben Gook, Robert Miller, Jeremy Fisher and Scott Rankin.

At the end of the series, I was able to write a long essay drawing some of the threads together with a particular view on cultural policy.  You can find the essay here:

In this essay, I argue that cultural policy in Australia is about bureaucratic fashion, and history, and tradition — but not evidence. Absurd inconsistencies in who we fund and how we regulate cultural expression are not the exception, but the norm.

So, for instance, we fund large companies of professional musicians to play the musical treasures of the European world — but not of the Islamic, Pacific or Chinese traditions. We spend hundreds of millions a year supporting Australian films, but not Australian games. We have exhibited contemporary graffiti and street art in the hallowed halls of our key public art galleries, while vigorously prosecuting and even jailing graffiti artists. We enforce some of the most stringent and punitive copyright laws in the world, without examining the costs of these special industry protections to consumers, schools, libraries and the public sphere.