Imported Art Saves Cultural Desert

by Julianna Sands

The Financial Review carried a story last month about an exhibition recently held in Perth’s Peppermint Grove, in one of the houses of wealthy property developer Nigel Satterley.

Peppermint Grove is a quiet coastal suburb near the heart of Perth, demographically like Toorak or Mosman. For a week the gentle denizens witnessed an invasion of well dressed art tourists, keen for a slice of Real Art Culture. A fashion show and an exclusive wine tasting had the aspirational upper-middles drooling over their couture accessories.

Don’t get me wrong, Tim Maguire is good at what he does. If he can shift a light box for 20k and a canvas for 200k, good luck to him, he’s hit paydirt. But it’s the commentary reportedly offered up by Satterley that makes me gag.

“We find that people in Perth appreciate art but it’s hard to get in on the ground floor. Not a lot of exhibitions come to Perth.”

Wait… so there are no artists in Perth? No exhibitions? What rock are you living under?

And since when did $20,000 to $200,000 constitute the “ground floor” of art? Those poor sad deprived Perth people, they really want to put a million dollars worth of canvas on their walls but they have to start small with 20-200 large.

Reporter Jonathan Barrett went on: “The city has obvious potential in a difficult national art market. Underpinned by the highly paid mining “fluoro collars”, West Australians’ average weekly earnings are more than $1500, reports the Australian Bureau of Statistics, compared with $1345 nationally.”

Oh, right. The Maguire exhibition is sure to have gotten Perth’s tradies wild with excitement.

Satterley seems to think he’s some sort of a modern Moses come to liberate Perth from its cultural desert.

Hello Nigel: Listen up. PERTH HAS LOTS OF ARTISTS, AND VERY GOOD ONES. If the locals want to buy art, and I mean cool, cutting-edge art, they just have to open the local paper. Exhibitions get advertised every week. They can go to any opening, get free drinks and a chance to see what’s really happening. They can add something to their wall which will really impress, for prices less than a tenth of Maguire’s. This really is the ground floor, and is a hugely fertile and innovative market.

The most galling thing is the patronising attitude. “The show had been ‘good for Perth'”, Barrett quotes Satterley as saying. Words fail me. The people who can pay 200 grand for a painting can just as easily pop over to Sydney or London to buy it. This sort of distortion is part of the malaise of the art industry, where people with too much cash and barely a clue are relieved of staggering amounts of dosh, and great artworks and artists remain undiscovered. It does nothing for Perth, for its people, and certainly not for its artists, and believe me there are relatively unknown artists in the town of Perth who can make even the likes of Maguire look ordinary.

But they won’t see the light of day if the punters are really as gullible as some people hope.