The Australian Art Field: Practices, Policies, Institutions

9 December 2021, 3:00:00 am

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Session Convenors

Professor Tony Bennett, University of Western Sydney
Professor Terry Smith, University of Pittsburgh

Session Moderators

Professor Terry Smith, University of Pittsburgh

Session Speakers

Professor Deborah Stevenson, Institute for Culture and Society, University of Western Sydney
Professor Tony Bennett, University of Western Sydney
Dr Stephen Gilchrist, Power Institute, University of Sydney

Indigenous and non-Indigenous Art Fields in Australia: Sociological and Curatorial Perspectives. This panel draws on chapters in the book The Australian Art Field: Practices, Policies, Institutions, edited by Tony Bennett, Deborah Stevenson, Fred Myers, and Tamara Winikoff, published by Routledge in 2020. Based on a three-year research and conference project, the book contains essays on Indigenous art; national and international exhibitionary complexes including art markets; sociological studies of art audiences; community arts and arts activism; and the policy regimes and funding programs of Australian governments as well as interviews conducted with artists. This panel, one of two, will consist of papers by Tony Bennett, Deborah Stevenson, and Stephen Gilchrist.

PAPER #1
Governance and the Australian Art Field: Organisational Themes and Contemporary Challenges

PRESENTER
Professor Deborah Stevenson, Institute for Culture and Society, University of Western Sydney

The arts in Australia operate in the context of the policy regimes and funding programmes of federal, state, and local governments, which provide support for the production and consumption of arts while also being powerful expressions of the priorities and power relations at the heart of the art field. Processes of exclusion and inclusion shape the art field. This paper highlights that the Australian artworld is predominantly Anglo, with both Indigenous Australians and people with culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds being under-represented in positions of leadership and influence. This socio-cultural marginalisation is particularly marked when considered alongside the ways in which the work of Indigenous artists is often used in officially sanctioned international exhibitions and ‘soft diplomacy’ initiatives. The paper also traces some of the core challenges facing the arts in Australia, including shifts in the funding priorities of federal and state governments, pressures on the autonomy of the Australia Council and the principle of arm’s length funding, and an emerging crisis in arts education and training. It concludes with a critical reflection on the negative implications of the absence of a national cultural policy with regard to the sustainability and vitality of the Australian art field.

PAPER #2
The Social Dynamics of Tastes in the Australian Art Field

PRESENTER
Professor Tony Bennett, University of Western Sydney

How might the concept of the art field associated with sociologist Pierre Bourdieu apply to the Australian art field? How does it compare to the more familiar concept of the art world? To explore these questions, the results of a recent survey of the social distribution of art tastes and practices of 1461 Australians will be presented. They show how genre tastes, familiarity and liking for different Australian artists, and patterns of gallery visitation varied in accordance with level and type of education, occupational class, and gender. Key themes include how the tastes of Australians occupying similar social positions are inflected in distinctive ways depending on their social mobility trajectories. Distinctive forms of engagement with Aboriginal art will also be identified as exemplified by the ways in which its forms of abstraction are appreciated for the stories they tell about the relations of culture to country. This contrasts sharply with attitudes to other forms of abstraction.

PAPER #3
Re-worlding the World of the Museum

PRESENTER
Dr Stephen Gilchrist, Power Institute, University of Sydney

Increasing the visibility of Indigenous people and by extension, Indigenous art and culture has been a vital motivation for many Indigenous curators. Positioning Indigenous art and culture within dominant institutions can facilitate the widest possible exposure. It can also out previous and current exclusionary practices. But inclusion is not equity. The high-profile resignations of Indigenous Senior Curators Brenda L. Croft from the National Gallery of Australia in 2009 and Hetti Perkins from the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2011 signalled not just a problem of institutional curation as practised by Indigenous curators but one of institutionalisation itself. Ten years later, how has the art field shifted for Indigenous curators and arts workers and how have renewed calls for Indigenous sovereignty been addressed within institutions? Recent structural changes have resulted in several executive-level appointments within cultural institutions including the National Gallery of Australia, the Australian Museum and the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. This represents a new era in the institutionalisation of Indigenous art and culture which is seemingly built on a commitment to Indigenous methodologies, structural change and the urgencies of self-determination.

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Biographies

Professor Terry Smith, University of Pittsburgh

Terry Smith is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Contemporary Art History and Theory, Department of the History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh, Professor in the Division of Philosophy, Art, and Critical Thought, European Graduate School, and Lecturer at Large, Curatorial Studies Program, School of Visual Arts, New York. Books include What is Contemporary Art? (2009), Contemporary Art: World Currents (2011), Thinking Contemporary Curating (2012), Talking Contemporary Curating (2015), The Contemporary Composition (2016), One and Five Ideas: On Conceptual Art and Conceptualism (2107), and Art to come: Histories of Contemporary Art (2019). See www.terryesmith.net/web/about


Professor Deborah Stevenson, Institute for Culture and Society, University of Western Sydney

Deborah Stevenson is Professor of Sociology and Urban Cultural Research in the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University. Her research interests are in arts and cultural policy, cities and urban life, and gender in creative practice and cultural consumption. Her books include Cities of Culture: A Global Perspective (Routledge); The City (Polity); Cities and Urban Cultures (Open University Press); Art and Organisation: Making Australian Cultural Policy (University of Queensland Press) and the co-authored Tourist Cultures: Identity, Place, and the Traveller (Sage). Cultural Policy Beyond the Economy: Work, Value, and the Social will be published in 2022.


Professor Tony Bennett, University of Western Sydney

Tony Bennett is an Emeritus Professor in the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University, and Honorary Professor in the Humanities Research Centre, Australian National University. A Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and of the Academy of the Social Sciences (UK), his research spans the fields of cultural studies, cultural sociology, and museum studies. Recent publications include Making Culture, Changing Society (2013), Collecting, Organising, Governing: Anthropology, Museums and Liberal Government (co-author, 2017), Museums, Power, Knowledge (2018), Fields, Capitals, Habitus: Australian Culture, Social Divisions and Inequalities (co-editor), and The Australian Art Field: Practices, Policies, Institutions (co-editor).


Dr Stephen Gilchrist, Power Institute, University of Sydney

Belonging to the Yamatji people of northwest Western Australia, Stephen Gilchrist is an art historian, lecturer and curator who has held curatorial appointments with the Indigenous collections of the National Gallery of Australia (2003-2005), the British Museum (2008), the National Gallery of Victoria (2005-2010), the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College (2011-2013) and the Harvard Art Museums (2012-2016). He works closely with major Australian and international institutions and contributes to international dialogues surrounding the scholarship and interpretation of Indigenous art and culture with a focus on Indigenous curation as an expression of sovereignty.