Our Germs, Germaine Greer, National Living Expat Treasure and our greatest culture critic*, has decided to join in the Wynne prize fracas (see here) in an article for the Guardian titled: “So an artist found a work on the web, copied it and won an award. Why the fuss?”

(*Just last month she won that title by defeating in arm wrestling, Clive James, Robert Hughes, Peter Conrad, Patrick White and Philip Adams.)

The famous portrait of critic Germaine Greer (by artist Frida Kahlo)

The famous portrait of Greer by feminist artist Frida Kahlo


Germs begins: “Australia is in the grip of another art scandal … Shock and horror were freely expressed: the Australian public is loudly sceptical about what most people continue to call “modern art”, given to asserting that their three-year-old could do better, and that it’s all a con…”

“The Australian public.” This must be the great unwashed – including the 200,000 folk who recently attended Brisbane’s Sixth Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art; and the 430,000 who made the pilgrimage to the Post-Impressionist show in Canberra, which closed last weekend. (Could the public be actually “skeptical” and exercising its birthright bullshit meter? Surely not!)

Germs says: “Landscape is a concept. As such it exists only in the mind.”

Right. All that dry landscape that farmers complain about – that’s all in their heads. And the plains that flood; the bush that went up in smoke; the reef that got bulldozed by a tanker; the volcano erupting – they’re, of course, duh, just conceptual. Glad she explained that.

Germs says: “Painters do not have to know what they are doing, much less talk about it…”

Then she quotes the artist who seems to know exactly what he did and is quite capable of talking at length: Sam Leach: “This work draws on 17th [century] Dutch landscape paintings and the tradition of baroque landscape painting, especially the way they created very idealised constructed landscapes. Historically, those paintings went on to inspire landscape gardeners to try to realise those idealised forms. I looked at that and thought about expanding that task and trying to arrange the entire universe with its stars and galaxies into neat geometric patterns. So I have extended the idea of constructing an idealised world into constructing an idealised universe.”

Which Germs critiques: “This is a tall order … and it rests on a total misconception. Pynacker’s work has nothing to do with gardening. The scene is a wilderness of scrub, forests and lowering crags … because it involves a lake and steep mountains, is always thought to be Italian but, as far as we know, Pynacker was never in Italy.”

Okay – that all clear now? An imaginary, maybe/could be, Italian landscape. And, oh, Leach forgot to change the oak leaves into gum leaves …

Germs says: “The oddest thing not to have changed is the leaves on the tree that frames the right hand side of the composition. Though Pynacker’s tree has oaklike leaves, its sinuous trunk is not that of an oak of any kind. It could easily have become a eucalyptus, and Bob would have been Leach’s uncle.

“As it is, the Sydney art pundits are moaning that the scene is not Australian, and that the terms of the prize have been flouted.”

Terms of the prize. Oh yes, that small matter of the rules.

Germs reminds us: “The Wynne prize was established in 1897 as a way of encouraging Australian artists to record the real.”

“Record the real.” Really! So Germs’ final leap is deeply mysterious, once again proving her cultural genius: “Landscape is a concept. As such it exists only in the mind.”

Ta-da! Take that, Australian critics; and take that, anti-art Australian public.

It’s simple: Italian landscape = Australian landscape, because = it’s all in your head.

Oak tree = gum tree = Bob’s your uncle.

Landscape is a concept = Portrait is an idea = Rembrandt = Warhol = mobile phone camera.


Did someone ask for just the facts?

Fact: The Wynne prize is awarded annually for “the best landscape painting of Australian scenery in oils or watercolours, or for the best example of figure sculpture by Australian artists completed during the 12 months preceding the [closing] date …”

Fact, Sam Leach says: “That painting in the Wynne prize was drawing on the tradition of Italianate landscapes, where often the artist has never been to Italy, just had an idea of what it should look like and painted that. I liked that sort of internalised ideal.”

Cool! Internalised ideal = Landscape is a concept: it really is all in his head! Choice, bro. Sammie can be my homie anyday.


See update on the story (bottom of the post)

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