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Has artist Scott Redford just burnt another bridge?

Scott Redford is a prominent artist who lives in Queensland. He’s also a frequent commenter on this website, mostly about how public servants employed as curators reaffirm their own tastes when they make choices about who, and what to show in their state-funded museums.

Redford is the first to admit he’s a “ratbag/whistleblower” whose — to put it mildly — forthright views have burned many bridges. Below is his letter to the director of the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), Chris Staines. It looks like he may have burned another one.

***

Dear Chris,

The reason I cannot bring myself to meet with you is that I know that whilst it will be a pleasant enough meeting NOTHING concrete will come of it. I have no interest to be involved with mainstream Australian government art anymore, it only deeply depresses me. I have NO TRUST whatsoever in the publicly waged managerial class anymore. I firmly believe we have entered a time of Art Without Artists: see Anton Vidokle in e-flux, the online magazine.

In fact even writing this greatly distresses me. What I am interested in is somehow making some good out of bad art world experiences by trying to get ye olde art worlde to maybe…maybe, start to think about their duty of care to artists, especially local artists.

Over the 30 plus years I’ve been involved with Australian government art I have witnessed the most appalling and totally unaccountable BAD behaviour by many art world public servants. Often this bad behaviour has been sheer ABUSE…abuse of power, of course, comes as no surprise.

What I would like to know is what actual policy QAGOMA has towards the treatment of artists, especially local artists? Do you actually have a Charter of Rights for artists? I intend to not rest until I can get the rights and issues for the 99% of Australia’s artists be thought about. We all know contemporary art can be anything and of any quality.

In fact without “identity content”  the art world would have no real way to make “quality” decisions on what needs to be exhibited and what is to be EXCLUDED. The last Asia-Pacific Triennial_was full of such bad art only chosen because of national identity is sickening. The “critics” we have are flown up by QAGOMA and very open for “cash for comment”. Their lame and half-hearted reviews prove this.

Artists are NOT part of the Government’s team. Artists are self employed small business people. We have ABNs, we collect GST, we pay tax, we vote.

Anyway. I am really only writing you this letter to publish it later as I know and you know the “system” is way too entrenched for any meaningful change. I will be writing to Museums Australia, Arts Law Centre and other places for their input…if it indeed comes…I’ll just get weasel word responses I know. The managerial wing of Australian government art has actually only contempt for the 99% of artists…Why?….because there are more artists than them and the minority needs to control the majority to maintain their cushy jobs.

Below are some suggestions that I feel all Australia’s publicly funded art museums should adopt. Please remember it is NOT your money…it’s public money and artists are foremost members of the PUBLIC!!! And you people are public servants!!!

GOAL: That real and concrete change is initiated to improve the status of Queensland artists.

Every five years or so a Queensland artist will enter the media to air complaints about the Queensland Art Gallery however QAG are impervious to such complaints, bar face-saving measures and some nice words. No real action is initiated.

The huge bulk of Australian culture IS NOT funded by Government! Australia culture is funded by individual artists taking low or no wages.

INITIATIVE 1: All spending on purchases (including purchases made with donated monies) be made totally transparent. All budgets also should be made totally transparent. The Queensland Art Gallery is a public institution and we must insist on total transparency to dispel any perception of bias etc.

INITIATIVE 2: A written and formally approved strategy which provides practical and ethical guidelines and procedures relating to our commitment to Queensland art and culture, one similar to the recent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island (ATSI) Engagement Strategy.

Too often the government-waged who administer Australian and Queensland art assume it is the general public they must serve first. Artists are somehow perceived as “part of the team” even though artists struggle financially with superannuation, proper wages etc. We even have to pay for our own computers, internet connect and pens and pencils. Public servants don’t!

Yet somehow because there is some  government funded politicians and the public perceive artists as “leaners”. The huge bulk of Australian culture IS NOT funded by Government! Australia culture is funded by individual artists by taking low or no wages.

Usually we pay to make and show our art to the public. The state galleries have free entry because artists are not properly paid. Think of all the actors, writers, artists, musicians and film people etc, all of these people live on extremely low wages and yet they produce the culture. The government-waged who administer that culture to the public ignores this fact. To them living artists are an annoying hindrance to their jobs. As we all know, the public service gets caught up in the public service system and forgets who they are meant to serve.

The situation was perfectly summed up when Malcolm Turnbull stated that artists were “viciously ungrateful”. It was as if we were angry peasants who should never dare to question. We are actually VOTERS Malcolm!

INITIATIVE 3: A permanent independent committee of Queensland artists is set up to advise on and instigate Queensland Art Gallery policy AND Queensland Government policy. This committee should be made up from nominations from the arts community state-wide.

INITIATIVE 4: That the Queensland Government be made aware that they must facilitate real measures to promote and nurture Queensland art. Nice words are not enough. Just giving the bulk of the money to the fine arts flagship QAGOMA and believing everything QAGOMA says is nowhere near enough.

Image of Scott Redford and one of his artworks by Alasdair Foster

23 responses to “Has artist Scott Redford just burnt another bridge?

  1. Frustrated with all art departments I decided to start my own Art Society, “Kimberley Live Artists Society” for artists of all walks to grow. This mentality where art is worthless till the artist dies has to go. That’s why I included the word “LIVE” in the name. KLAS has been around a number of years now and have never needed any funding. Most money comes from running classes and workshops which supports the up and coming artists for their future in our community. Hopefully, one day, we will also host a major comp.

  2. Great letter! I agree that the morality of arts bureaucratic employment has become tainted by the employment model. To hire experts, silence them yet not listen to them either must be fairly demoralising. But until there is an artists’ superannuation fund comparable with the OzCo’s, say, there’s no contest ethically. Any cultural agency not putting artists first is not working in its own best interests, let alone the public’s. Happily, there is always a lot of scope for artists retrieving/ restating their identity, in fact, its an obligation to break these taboos as often as emotionally affordable, given the tremendous harm the ‘leaning’ depiction of artists has caused in Australian society. See Rodney Hall’s 2005 OzCo report; http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2005/s1414596.htm

  3. Thank you so much for writing this Scott. I am a professional artist and have been working for the recognition of artists as professionals for a long time. I agree with your points about bureaucracy. As professional artists of course we have to work within the existing system, that is not to say that we can’t speak against inconsistency, and corruption when we see it. The perception of art as a profession in Australia is very poor and much of this perception comes from those with the power to set the agenda such as the public servants and government. So much so that when government and mainstream media refers to the “Arts Industry” they are not referring to artists and makers at all but rather to the Arts Bureaucracy. I firmly believe that the language and culture surrounding arts funding has to change. For instance “grants” imply that artists are given some money as a charity, when in fact grants are simply funds to pay for projects to be completed. I also think that if much of the current Arts funding was diverted into practical measures for practising artists such as tax cuts, hardship benefits etc in exactly the same way as other industries such as mining, manufacturing and farming receive industry based initiatives, that the Arts in Australia would flourish. What artists need on a day to day basis is money for the work that they do and recognition and respect as professionals. I also think that cultural institutions should be required to use professional artists as consultants and Board members, the links between practising artists and bureaucracies should be clear, strong and inviolable.

  4. Look I know I write a lot and it does look like Ego…but hey I’m an artist, what do you expect :-)

    Here’s part of something I published in Broadsheet Journal 38.2 2009, a shout out to Alan Cruikshank for encouraging me to write it.
    http://www.cacsa.org.au//Wordpress/yoo_bigeasy_demo_package_wp/wp-content/uploads/Broadsheet/2009/38_2/Redford38_2.pdf

    In it I try (as usual) to get the Australian Art World to think harder about their perceptions of Australian Art and its place in the world. I write from an artist’s perspective, an artist who has tried to work on the ground OS. BUT my texts are totally ignored by the Art Public Servants who run Australian Art using Public Funds BECAUSE the ideas are not theirs. Basically the gatekeepers see it as their role to run everything and artists are just “prop makers” in the scheme of things. I tried and talk to people all the time BUT this new generation of “professionals” are obviously affronted by a lowly artist having…shock, horror… Ideas!

    The impossibly “professionalized” only want their careers and are only beholden to the people who pay their wages! Fuck artists and in reality Fuck the Public. That is my 30+ years summation:

    Context is king, but Australians still have to enter the new stylistic flatland of international contemporary art without explaining their own context or history. Art is one of the last aristocratic mediums—it does not operate like normal trade. Contemporary art may have an ever broadening audience but the art-clergy still calls the shots. It is a highwire affair with serious money involved, so it’s no surprise that the market and the curatoriat often appear to be in lockstep. There is no cabal, star chamber, or conspiracy, but things are real cosy. How can Australia get in on the cosiness?

    One problem is that there is little material difference between Australian art and international art. Let’s face it, one artist’s You Tube-ish video installation is pretty similar to another’s; one pop poster appropriation is the like another; one unmade bed the same as the next. Australia does make high quality art. Indeed the very quality of Australian work is a problem. Paradoxically, our success in making good art is actually our failure. When visiting international curators see good work, they assume it must be derivative, its quality being an index of its lack of originality. They lean on their prior context, placing ‘recognition factors’ at front-of-mind, condemning Australian art to always seem derivative. Strangely, when faced with a wealth of unknown regional artists, they inevitably default to the old-school model of modernist originality, which they wouldn’t apply at home. (Every Australian artist knows what I’m saying.) Australian art is simply seen as more product, which will never add anything new to the world. And we respond by presenting our art like Oliver Twist offers his begging bowl. ‘We make good art, why don’t you like us?’
    Our national export shows have only reinforced this prejudice and, mercifully, have been stopped. Few of the artists included got anything from them, bar kudos at home. (Aboriginal art may escape this, only just, but even it is having a hard time, still being largely consigned to ‘the anthropological’.) We are stuck in the Commonwealth ghetto, with New Zealand and Canada, which makes a mockery of the current rhetoric of international inclusiveness. Then again, no one in art actually took that idea seriously—it’s the talk not the walk.
    The changed circumstances I outlined are certainly impacting on the terms of the quintessentially Australian ‘provincialism problem’. Australian contemporary art has always been part of the long tail. The question is whether we can exploit a new emphasis on the long tail to advance our interests or whether our tyres spinning in mud will only entrench our marginality. Certainly, Chris Anderson sees the long tail as a good place to be right now. And many of our regional neighbours are there too. For Australian artists, our set of changed circumstances might be liberating. The collapse of originality, the rise of the artist-aggregator, late modernism’s being recuperated as a tool palette in a new pluralistic globalised art, and a dumbed-up audience… all these might mean that the Australian artist is now truly unbound.

  5. To be honest, Scott would be stuffed if he had to survive outside of the sanction of the government funded art institutions in this country, and the public servant minions who run them. His mega-ego 3D installation art-experiences wholly depend upon those spaces and those people, because the work is so removed from the experience of most, and only meaningful to an en-cultured elite created out of University Fine Art Departments, and cultural and curatorial studies courses, and who share a special knowledge and language which gives the practice significance. It is a special language of the entitled and has very little meaning to the public and most practicing artists in this country. So it seems a bit hypocritical, and even hysterical of Scott to be bitching about the system and people who seemingly support so many of his efforts. Sounds more like a localized art-world spat.

    1. LET THE BLOOD FLOW(in appreciation of the “good” Trump has done for America…)

      I usually don’t bother with tracking the commentary on these things as it usually falls 50/50 between those who ridicule me and those who very much support me. I also note that only Trent Firmin and stephen gallagher actually are honest enough to use their real names here, as I always do. I suspect that the people who want to make out I’m a spoilt art brat are Public Servants or people very much dependent on public monies. I know pretty much for sure that the people who wholeheartedly support me are artists. It is artists I am doing this for. I have decided that although current International Contemporary Art has become a shadow of what it was only 10 years ago and basically bores me (I include aspects of my work in this) I still whole heartedly believe that Art is for Artists first and foremost, even if the “new” artist is the anon poster of images on Social Media. We must believe in the role of artist BUT to do this we must Strike Against Art to start afresh. (see Yates Mckee, “Strike Art: Contemporary Art and the Post-Occupy Condition”)Also on the current state I would recommend Suhail Malik’s writings and esp his forthcoming book: How To Exit Contemporary Art.

      What I am doing is informed by A LOT of research I assure everyone. This is not just some local “tantrum”, this is a manifesto for action…and as pretentious as all Manifestos are of course.

      It is become very important to my well being that I allow myself to say anything I wish. Artists must never self censor. The official art culture in Australia has become (like OS) impossibly “professionalized” leading to the marginalization of actual artists. Again please see Anton Vidokle http://www.e-flux.com/journal/16/61285/art-without-artists/

      I can speak about the problems I have witnessed in the Australian Govt Art World because I have worked at high levels in it for 30+ years. Of course I know that “normal” people would be thankful for the success which comes with endless and soul destroying compromise. In the end I hated myself and couldn’t go on within this world due to what Power People who run that art world did to me. Such as the NGA buying an unsigned and totally remade remake of my work without even letting me know. Or the treatment Tony Ellwood I got at QAG when I had a show there, all because I complained I, the local artist, got almost nothing to make work BUT Ellwood spent $100,000s on OS work. What is fascinating is that so many people who were so VERY powerful at QAG are now all gone…and soon to be forgotten. All those overpaid big wigs who made sure artists were treated as shit…all now gone. And what is left? My work and the work of many, many other local artists who actually make the ART. If art public servants want to make the art go right ahead chums.
      terrancerh, who is afraid to use their real name, seems to think this is a one off from me. I assure everyone there are 100s of these texts and I will soon publish them in a book. Donald

      Trump is loathsome BUT he does say some good things. We all secretly admire certain aspects of him. I just decided to “Let the blood flow”. Of course I will be attacked as a hypocrite, does anyone not realise I knew this? It took a real existential break with my conservative, “normal” self to decide to just let it all flow no matter what happened. I do hope people know that now I am totally black-listed by all of official Australian Art…just letting you know. Shows with signed letters were cancelled! Illegal behaviour justified by my “very public” criticism. I was very fearful inside to do what I am doing and will continue to do. All of us want to “normal” and liked hey? But I also worship the Outsider, Kurt Cobain, Dada and Punk. So I just thought: FUCK IT, FUCK ME, FUCK THEM! I spoke to myself one day: “Act like a real artist Scott and not the “charming art guy” that is really acting like your Mum. Act like your crazy, abusive Dad Scott”. So I did.”

      I fully know what the “normals” will say BUT what I have done has reaffirmed the ARTIST in me. I always thought i was a cynical, shallow “Pop” artist from the Gold Coast (the most culturally reviled place in Australia by the way!) BUT now I realize I am not only that, it was GC “pose” anyway. So I will continue with my totally flawed and totally dumb PERFORMANCE PIECE. Fuck yous all!!!

  6. I think I just rolled my eyes so hard I may never see straight again. How self-righteous.
    The Arts is poorly funded on a state and federal level. Throwing shade at the Director of the local state gallery isn’t going to do anything at all.
    These ‘public servants’ he assumes are so well off are hanging onto their jobs by the thread. The National Gallery had to tell good a portion of their staff their jobs no longer existed recently.

    The galleries are putting out the work they think the public wants to see and what the budget allows. Admission is free because our taxes have already paid the entry fee, it has nothing to do with how well the artists are paid.

    Scott Redford should be writing to the government asking for better Arts funding.

    1. The NGA blew tens of millions on stolen property. All gone both the money and the sculptures. AGNSW has wasted five years and millions on its too grandiose ‘ extension’…

    2. This comment is laughable. So the only people that matter are the public servants whose jobs are hanging by a thread!! Boo Hoo, I’m so sad! I know one curator a one major Canberra Museum who said to me that some days they only write 2 emails!! They said this with bemusement rather than any actual guilt.

      Artists are Tax Payers too “Glen”…I suspect you are a retired Art Public Servant or someone very close to the public servants. Here’s a radical thought. Just get rid of all Arts Funding full stop. OR give the makers of the art: The Artsist the money and they employ the public servants to do what their name suggests “serve” the public because last I looked artists were also members of the Public!! Instead YOU treat them as somehow lowly Govt employees, just as Tony Ellwood and QAG treated me when I dared to question.

      AND by the way I have regularly suggested to the Politicians to start a National Lottery for the Arts and Heritage just as they have had in UK for decades. I am actually THINKING Glen. I do try and I tried to speak to ye olde Aussie art world about this for many years. I have the texts that go back decades! BUT, like you. Public Servants think artists are superfluous to Art Galleries. and its all about the jobs of those publicly waged!! Get real Glen!!

  7. The famous philosopher of the 17th century, René Descartes ruminated when watching the street outside his study window how he could tell whether he was looking at real people or at some kind of sham world invented by an evil genie to make his life a misery. Thanks to management, now we know.

  8. By offering only generalisations and cliched stereotypes about ‘bureaucrats’ with less taste than yourself, you do yourself a disservice Mr Redford.

    You offer little to no evidence for your claims and the whole exercise comes off as a major temper tantrum that galleries aren’t buying enough of your work – or your style of work.

    A string of assertions written in all-caps about jet fuel not melting steel beams would not have appeared out of place in this piece.

    1. The National Gallery did buy a questionable I.e. ‘heavily restored’ piece from a second hand dealer, when they could have bought a new one from Scots gallery .

      1. I do agree with all of the ideas yo17;82u&#ve presented in your post. They are very convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are very short for novices. Could you please extend them a bit from next time? Thanks for the post.

  9. Scott I know the love is not there in some institutions. Having being an queensland born with my formative art studies in this state there has been little to no interest from QAG of my work. This is after keeping staff informed of my achievements; representing Australia in exhibitions in German, France, UK, Japan, India, South America, as well as nationally. Purchaces of works by other state and regional collections. AsI sit back and watch the same old, same old being purchased by QAG. It just proves to me their colloquial ways, I now spend my energies with those more respectful and honest institutions.

  10. Wonderfully written Mr. Redford, I personally applaud you firstly for taking the time to write this open, honest and transparent letter. As a part of the public and a person who frequents our state and local council run art galleries. I can understand where you make your point. These public servants whom have been appointed to galleries need to get off their high horses and start paying attention to the artists and public, because quite frankly if I am paying for them to do a job as a tax payer. And you as an iconic artist are unhappy with the way you are being treated then there really does need to be an overhaul of the industry. For the amount of art that has been bought of yours over the years from state and local council run galleries, I am surprised at how little is shown to the public. I have had to ask for a back tour of galleries just to see some of your works, some of which are hanging up in offices not see by anybody but these public servants, that is if they even know who the artist is. A very sad state of affairs indeed.
    I am all for your initiative’s and I think you have not burnt another bridge, if anything, you have been true to yourself and honest with the public.
    The public and artists alike should be thanking you for opening up a dialogue for discussion, god knows it has probably been along time waiting and most artist wouldn’t or couldn’t be bothered to stand up for what’s right.
    You sir are an inspiration, keep up your amazing works and I thank you.
    PS: I may not own any of your works but I truly appreciate all the work you have done over the decades. Thank you Scott Redford.

    1. I would like to add in support of councils, that councils have had a change. In the last 15yrs we have seen a change in the display of public collections. Prior to this artwork was stored in collection storeroom as the need for low risk damage protection. With a large public outcry for a wish to see more artwork that was purchased with public monies and rarely exhibited. Many Councils started to display collection pieces in officers to assist with accessability by the public.

      1. Stephen the whole Collection storage/ access issue is fraught as we know. For example the Qld Uni Art Museum has a whole file box of lost works due to their display in Uni offices. I think its 700 works lost but I am unsure.

        Also the Regional Galleries have no funds for proper conservation. At the Gold Coast Art Gallery I repaired one early work of mine 3 times I think. I even built its own open crate for it. I suspect its damaged again, it is a bit fragile. Also The Gold art Gallery had a large black combine piece of mine on display in its Arts Center foyer areas that was in such a bad state it would be deemed an infringement of copyright as displaying a work not in good condition is an infringement. I think the work was there for storage purposes, storage is a real disaster at GCAG, has been for decades.

  11. Sigh,yet another special interest demanding special treatment from the Government teat.

    The car industry did it, far more effectively, until someone finally grew the balls and decided that paying people to deliver overpriced, substandard vehicles that couldn’t sell on the global market, was a waste of taxpayers resources.

    This is no different.

    1. Um that’s not what i said Unicorn. I am not demanding more money. I am asking that the Governments start think whether their arts funding is helping actual individual artists who are their constituents. At present the money goes mainly to the public service, the ultimate teat feeders.

      And also I don’t agree with your concept of the car industry at all. Your opinion is only that and many disagree. Australia can make cars that are wanted OS I’m sure, perhaps luxury cars, but the industry was just abandoned by an economic idiot Joe Hockey who is the biggest and fattest teat sucker we have, cushy Govt diplomatic job and all!

      Umm… Unicorn.. it is you who are mythical creature Mate!

  12. The other outrageous example of how individual artists are reduced to sub status by Public Servants is the incident of the National Gallery of Australia buying a work of mine on the secondary market when they had NEVER bought a work before. When I complain publicly that the work was remade without my final approval the NGA then announce that the work is “authentic” even though everyone acknowledges the work was remade. However later I find that the work had had its signature and any inscriptions totally removed from the back!

    Talk about the absolute arrogance of the Gatekeepers desperate to protect their reputations at all costs. This is what is meant by Art Without Artists!

  13. This text end abruptly with my set of 4 suggestions to empower individual Qld artists because I always get very upset in writing this letter (I’ve written it 20 times or more). The booming career tranjectory of “curators” and Fine Art “professionals” has been almost solely at the expense of 99% of individual artists. It’s a worldwide problem and increasingly seen as such. In Australia the Art Institutions are seen as mainly forms of Cultural Tourism or broad free public entertainment. In Qld the current Premier is Annastacia Palaszczuk whose Fine Art policy seems to exist of spruiking QAGOMA and it sucks up all the State money too. Palaszczuk just listens to her public servants as…well public servant likes public servant!
    This dimished role of artists was brought home to me vividly when at my own opening at Qld Art Gallery in 2010 I was left standing all alone waiting to see if any Gallery “important person” would come and say hello. None came, instead I just watched as all the staff tried to infiltrate the “Power Scrum” Director Tony Ellwood had gathered around himself: people like John Kaldor and Naomi Milgrom etc. Even The then Premier Anna Bligh was forced to the very back of this Scrum. It was an absolute disgrace! BUT this is what rules in Australian Art. Only former Board Member and artist (and thoroughly nice person) noticed and with embarrassment at an obvious slight offered to get me a glass of wine.
    It was then I fully realized something I had suspected all along, that artists were just prop designers totally superfluous to the power games and career tactics of certain “players”. As Anton Vidokle says in Art Without Artists
    “The necessity of going “beyond the making of exhibitions” should not become a justification for the work of curators to supersede the work of artists, nor a reinforcement of authorial claims that render artists and artworks merely actors and props for illustrating curatorial concepts. Movement in such a direction runs a serious risk of diminishing the space of art by undermining the agency of its producers: artists.”
    “Curatorial work is a profession, and people working in the field are not free agents but are rather employed to perform a task on behalf of an institution or a client. It’s a job, both for those affiliated with institutions and for so-called independent curators. With the job come institutional power, a degree of security, and a mandate for a certain range of activity, which may involve a certain sense of institutional authorship, but emphatically, to my mind, does not include artistic claim to the artwork on which this activity is predicated.”
    “Many artists—from extremely established artists to younger practitioners new to the field of art—feel that curatorial power and arrogance are out of control.

    For artists, precarious working conditions have been a reality for most of the history of modern and contemporary art. Artists have never benefited from the kind of organization that many Fordist factory workers or other unionized laborers managed to achieve, and whose improved wages, hours, and working conditions improved the situation even in many non-unionized fields. Artists, in their capacity as artists, have always worked as independent producers, mostly without stipends, salaries, pensions, unemployment protection, or contracts.”

    1. Scott..if you have the time please read my thoughts on the role of a curator in The Curator in the Acedemy, 2010. Published by Australian Scholarly Publications. I raise raise similar points to yours in the chapter ‘Objects in space’

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