ART MAGAZINES AND REVIEWING
The first published reviews of exhibitions of Australian art were anonymous notices by reporters in colonial newspapers. In 1854 the journalist and editor James Smith—an art, literature and theatre reviewer—arrived in Melbourne, where he began writing for the Age before being appointed to the Argus in 1856. Such was this journeyman writer’s dominance of the critical climate that his furious Ruskin-inspired attack on the 1889 9 x 5 Impression exhibition is still remembered.
Dedicated publications on Australian art began to appear at the end of the 19th century. The first was the Sydney-based artist George Collingridge’s Australian Art: A Monthly Magazine and Journal, which began in January 1888 and ran until March that year. The next venture, the Australasian Art Review: A Monthly Journal of Music, Art and Drama, also based in Sydney, lasted from March 1899 until February 1900. This substantial publication can be credited with publishing the first overview of Australian art with James Green (J.G. De Libra)’s serialised ‘The Fine Arts in Australasia’. The November issue included Green’s essay on the 1899 Society of Artists’ exhibition, ‘The Poetry of Our Painting’, which is still one of the best analyses of Australian fin de siècle decoration.
Feature articles on Australian art were regularly published from 1904 to 1911, when D.H. Souter was art editor of Art and Architecture, the journal of the Institute of Architects of New South Wales. In Melbourne in 1906, William Moore published Studio Sketches: Glimpses of Melbourne Studio Life and also wrote articles on interesting works from Australian exhibitions for the English art magazine, the Studio. From 1908 to 1918 the Victorian Artists’ Society Journal was effectively an in- house journal supporting its members’ work, a stance that was also followed by the Queensland Art Society.
Art in Australia, the most significant and enduring 20th-century publication on Australian art, was made possible by a combination of factors. The publisher, Sydney Ure Smith (1887–1949), was also the senior partner in Sydney’s leading advertising agency, Smith & Julius. His close working relationship with the photo engravers Hartland & Hyde resulted in superb high-quality colour reproductions for advertising, which led him to believe it was possible to also reproduce images of Australian art. In 1916, when the painter J.J. Hilder died, Ure Smith collaborated with the critic Bertram Stevens to produce The Art of J.J. Hilder (1918), with tipped-in, full-colour illustrations. This project led Smith and Stevens to create the quarterly Art in Australia (1916–42). Leon Gellert was appointed editor after Stevens’ death in 1922. Art in Australia actively fostered an interest in Australian art, and its success led to other publishers—notably Angus & Robertson—to produce books on the subject. Although it paid some attention to activities by other groups, it tended to reflect the activities and ideas of Sydney’s Society of Artists, of which Sydney Ure Smith was president. It is nevertheless the main source for published information on Australian art of this period. Art in Australia did not run at a profit, but was supported by (Sir) Charles Lloyd Jones, artist and department store proprietor. The Art in Australia imprint also produced the very stylish the Home (1920–42), which published articles on design and art, as well as fashion and high society.
In 1934, at the height of the Great Depression, both the Home and Art in Australia were bought by John Fairfax & Sons. Smith was forcibly retired in 1938, and in 1940 Peter Bellew, who was also the Sydney Morning Herald’s art critic, edited Art in Australia until wartime restrictions led to its closure. After the war, Fairfax refused to transfer copyright on the title. In May 1963, Smith’s son, Sam Ure Smith, with Mervyn Horton, revived the publication with a new conjunction as Art & Australia. Supported by extensive advertising, Art & Australia has become the most significant continuing publication on Australian art. It has often been the first published source of information and research on Australian artists, and has a long-standing practice of reviewing books on Australian art and major exhibitions. Art & Australia was acquired by Eleonora Triguboff in 2003, and rebadged as ARTAND Australia in 2013.
Until the Australia Council for the Arts transformed arts funding in 1973, other magazines were launched but did not survive. Max Harris’s Angry Penguins (1940–46) published some articles on artists associated with the group. A number of university student newspapers combined literary criticism with art appreciation. Modern Art News (Melbourne, 1959) ran for two issues. In 1970, Terry Smith and Paul McGillick produced three issues of the glossy Other Voices before it closed. Publications associated with art societies were more successful, with the NSW Contemporary Art Society Broadsheet in particular publishing lively critiques of current issues from the 1950s until the mid-1970s. Imprint, the magazine of the Print Council of Australia, began in 1966 and is still in production.
The Whitlam Labor government’s generous funding of the arts led to a significant rise in the number of art magazines in the 1970s, but many of these were short-lived, and did not survive the 1976 Budget cuts or the 1980s recession. However they did help to create a climate of pluralist discourse on art, and continuing targeted Australia Council support has enabled the publication of a broad spectrum of art magazines. In the 1980s Art & Text (1981–2002) provided a publishing base for an essentially postmodernist approach to art, while Artlink (edited by Stephanie Britton since 1981), which started as an information sheet for South Australia, has evolved into a national quarterly with a focus on ideas and issues that impact on Australia’s cultural life. As a result, it enjoys significant international exposure. Artlink was the first Australian art magazine to have issues dedicated to Aboriginal art, and these are now guest edited by Indigenous writers.
In 1987, the UK-based Art Monthly supported an Antipodean incarnation that has evolved into a topically based publication housed at the Australian National University in Canberra. In July 2008, the cover image of Polexeni Papapetrou’s daughter as Lewis Carroll’s Olympia led to short-lived notoriety and the cancellation of embassy subscriptions. Some of the liveliest discussion of this and other recent visual arts issues has been on the web on some of the art blogs that have mushroomed over recent years. The most influential of these is Artlife.com, which has also led to its main writer, Andrew Frost, hosting a television series of the same name, and making regular appearances on ABC Radio National.
While art criticism has tended towards the blogosphere, the Australian Art Collector, a glossy magazine totally funded by advertising, was founded in Sydney in 1997. Many of the writers who appear in Australia Council-funded publications and on blogs also write in a more muted fashion for the general public.
The standing of current art critics in the mainstream media has seen them overshadowed by soft journalism guided by media releases. In 1988, the Pascall Prize for critic of the year was established in memory of the journalist and critic Geraldine Pascall (1944–83). Only two visual arts critics (Joanna Mendelssohn, the Bulletin, 1991 and Robert Nelson, the Age, 2000) have been awarded the Pascall Prize. However, Sebastian Smee, who writes for both the Boston Globe and the Melbourne-based the Monthly, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2011.
REFs: W. Moore, The Story of Australian Art (1934); G. Souter, Company of Heralds (1981).