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Bacon embraces new normal with a sense of what's Important


It’s almost business as usual for Philip Bacon Galleries this week, with the Fortitude Valley gallery space resuming normal trading hours, albeit with a strict adherence to social-distancing protocols.

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The  gallery has remained open by appointment only since the emergence of COVID-19 pandemic but this week resumed its normal opening hours of 10.00am to 5:00pm Tuesday to Saturday.

“We’re just keeping our show that was on when all this happened, Important Australian Paintings, up on the wall,” gallery director Philip Bacon told InQueensland.

Bacon has described that exhibition – a survey of 47 works by revered Australian artists including William Robinson, Margaret Olley, Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan, Ian Fairweather, Charles Blackman and Jon Molvig – as “proof, if proof is needed, of the diversity and talent, genius even, that is manifest across 140 years of our art history”.

He did say, however, that one multidisciplinary artist in particular has taken umbrage at the exhibition’s title.

“Barry Humphries is a friend of mine and also one of my artists – he’s a painter as well as well as an actor and comedian,” Bacon said. “He rang me the other night, and his catalogue had just arrived in London and he said, ‘I’ve got something I want to discuss with you, I think you should retitle that exhibition Fairly Important Australian Paintings.

“I said, ‘why would that be?’, knowing full well [what the answer would be] and he said,  ‘well there’s one glaring omission from your list of artists … Barry Humphries.”

Bacon said the gallery had adapted the exhibition for an online audience since the implementation of social restrictions, something he admitted “was probably not something that I wanted to do it, because I’ve never thought of it”.

“It just seemed such a tragedy we have these beautiful, important, major, major pictures that nobody was going to see,” he said.

Ian Fairweather’s China Tea (1963), which is part of the Important Australian Paintings exhibition.

Bacon said the gallery had had several sales since the exhibition opened, including works by Fairweather, Olley, Molvig and Jude Rae, but many of the works on display are still for sale, including Olley’s Sunday flowers – a piece Philip Bacon Galleries originally sold more than 40 years ago.

Sunday flowers is a lovely thing and it’s interesting because we sold that back in 1977 for $900 and it’s been in the same family ever since, and it’s now $95,000, so it has gone up quite a lot,” he said.

Bacon said the gallery had postponed several exhibitions due to take place this year, and would assess the viability of other planned events as social restrictions eased further.

“We have postponed our one-man shows until July to see how things work and then the ones that we can’t accommodate for this year we’ll push into 2021,” he said.

“Really big shows and big like the Fred Williams exhibition, which was scheduled for June/July that will put that into 2021, our big Bill Robinson show were put into 2021.”

Bacon said he was confident people would be ready to re-engage with visual art in the coming weeks and months as venues started to reopen.

“I’m an optimist by nature so I’m hoping that that will happen,” he said. “All people like I can do is provide a venue, and hopefully people will see the need for it and when they come here they’ll get something out of it – that’s all you can hope for really.

“One of the great mysteries that has never been solved as why art exists,” Bacon said. “But it does, and it always has when you think of the cave paintings and going back, [Australia’s] Indigenous art is 50,000 years old, if not a lot older. There’s something that humanity needs, and it often needs it more in these times than others.”

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