Art and politics mix, often poorly. Artists are sometimes the hoodwinked emissaries of the latter, sponsored, enlisted and marshalled by the state and corporate entities. Self-proclaimed radical artists can become compliant, or at the very least mute cogs, aware of their patronage and finite sources of funding. To question is to impoverish.
In Australia, the links between security companies and the art world have come in for a recent sniping. Such episodes should be more regular, but artists in Australia have woken up from a prolonged slumber of selfish apathy to push back against companies who provide the gruesome bill for Australia’s offshore detention centres.
The issue drew some attention in 2014, when the Biennale of Sydney chairman Luca Belgiorno-Nettis resigned in response to an artist boycott regarding Transfield’s security role in offshore processing on Manus Island and Nauru. Transfield’s other hat was that of committed art patron, an association begun by Belgiorno-Nettis’ father, Franco, in 1961. The irritating bee in the bonnet was less Transfield than its subsidiary company.
At the time, the then Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull condemned what he thought was “sheer vicious ingratitude” on the part of artists. The now retired Senator George Brandis found the gesture of protest “irrational” while chiding the Biennale board for capitulating “to the blackmail effectively of a small number of artists”.