A modest proposal to deal with the deficit

EQJust over a century ago Western Australia’s deficit meant the State was building up huge debts.

Sound familiar?

The blame, as it turned out, was to be laid squarely at the door of a government committed to large-scale projects without actually costing them properly or having the money to pay for them in cash.

Sound familiar?

There was a huge waste of money down by the waterfront. Not Elizabeth Quay this time, but formal gardens with beautiful grass and flowers. Just where it was likely that a quay or a wharf would be needed.

Even though faced with a budget shortage, the Government still went ahead with major building projects like a new stadium at Burswood. No, sorry, our mistake. Not a stadium, but an Art Gallery, so the leisured few could stroll around it on a Sunday afternoon.

No one could deny that investing in a public library or a technical school were essential. And given the mining industry, perhaps even a geological museum could be justified.

But not an art gallery, not a zoo, and certainly not an observatory. None of these could be defended until Western Australia had a population much larger than it had in 1909.

It was simple. Western Australia’s financial troubles were wholly of its own creation.

Sound familiar?

Keeping it in the family

J. W. R. Linton, Perth from South Perth, c.1900

J. W. R. Linton, Perth from South Perth, c.1900

In 1905 the Sunday Times detected the whiff of gross mismanagement at Perth Museum.

There was, however, a little bit of self-interest in its accusation. The founder of the Sunday Times, Frederick Vosper, spent his spare time collecting minerals (and denouncing all non-white races, but that’s another story).

After Vosper’s death, his collection had been donated to the Museum. Which consequently stored it in a broom cupboard.

So when a Sunday Times journalist visited and noticed the minerals weren’t on display it was open season on the Museum’s management committee.

In those days the Museum and Art Gallery were one and the same place. And it was on the art collection that the newspaper turned its fire.

It was alleged that the majority of the collection was purchased from England not because of its quality, but because of family connections between artists and the Museum’s Board.

As a consequence, public money was being wasted on inferior paintings, just to ‘keep it in the family’.

But particular scorn was reserved for the Linton family. Sir James Dromgole Linton was a British artist who advised the Museum on its English purchases.

His son, James Linton, taught art in Perth. And simply because he was the offspring of a very minor English artist, the Museum went out of its way to buy everything James did.

And when they needed a backdrop for the stuffed birds, guess who was engaged to undertake it?

One of Linton’s canvases, purporting to be a representation of Fremantle Harbour, was a particularly bad example of his talentless watercolour daubs.

The Sunday Times described it as something you might paint “after a week on raw lobster.”

Nonetheless, his paintings took pride of place in every room, overshadowing art by painters who could actually paint.

In addition, James Linton’s name appeared all over the Museum. In all the guides, handbooks and reports, and on the financial statements.

The whole place, it was said, felt like Linton’s personal gallery, rather than a building owned by the people of Western Australia.

Of course, we at Dodgy Perth take no stand on the quality of Linton’s art. Except to note that the Sunday Times had it exactly right.

The Museum continued to collect Linton, and the work of offspring of Linton, including some teaspoons. And the work of anyone who took one of Linton’s courses, such as Herbert ‘Kitch’ Currie.

And, most likely, if you look hard enough, the work of Linton’s cat is on display somewhere in the Art Gallery. Probably.

It’ll look good in my kitchen

Looking as attractively arty as ever

Looking as attractively arty as ever

Here at Dodgy Perth we don’t pretend to know much about modern art. Which is okay, because it turns out no one else does either.

In 1953 the first significant exhibition of modern art was held in the Art Gallery, including works by Picasso, Leger, and Le Corbusier.

The public response was predictable. Letters poured into the newspapers decrying the monstrosities hung on the walls, demanding to know why the artists had not been locked up in an asylum. Most visitors regarded the whole show as a bad joke.

Fortunately, the gallery’s Assistant Art Director, David Lawrance, was on hand to explain why modern art was important. So let’s listen to the wise words of Perth’s leading expert on the subject.

No one knows what modern art is about, but it will have an important influence on the average kitchens of tomorrow.

Sorry? I’m not sure I heard you correctly.

“It is difficult to arrive at what exactly is meant by modern art,” he restated, but it has influenced modern kitchen design.

Okay, moving on. David was asked what one painting next to him was all about. He blushed, turned aside and whispered to an aide: “What is its title?”

As the audience began to snigger, the art expert helpfully added “Your guess is as good as mine,” making everything clear.

He ummed and he ummed some more.

As a picture, it is quite good in its balanced shapes and variation in colour. But the meaning… I’m a bit lost!

Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes today’s lesson on modern art. Thank you for attending.