Sheridan Palmer reviews 'A Most Generous Scholar: Joan Kerr: Art and Architectural Historian' by Susan Steggall

The database doyenne of Australian colonial culture

Sheridan Palmer reviews 'A Most Generous Scholar: Joan Kerr: Art and Architectural Historian' by Susan Steggall

A Most Generous Scholar: Joan Kerr: Art and Architectural Historian

by Susan Steggall

LhR Press, $35 pb, 269 pp, 9780646593050

It’s absurd to pretend that we are or ever have been no more than exiled Europeans … forever condemned to inhabit some irrelevant, Antipodean limbo.’ This statement encapsulates Joan Kerr’s determination to rewrite established codes of Australian art history and to expand the lexicon of its cultural heritage. If an egalitarian consensus of colonial cultural creativity were to be achieved, Joan Kerr (1938–2004) was the woman for this herculean job. She turned encyclopedic compilations of lists and facts, comprehensively researched by teams of dedicated assistants led by her, into large-bound reality. This is her legacy. But the route taken, the victories and struggles she encountered, are also legendary.

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Sheridan Palmer

Sheridan Palmer

Sheridan Palmer is an art historian, curator, and an Honorary Fellow at the University of Melbourne. Her interests are in Australian and European art from the twentieth century to the present, with an emphasis on postwar modernism, artists and art historians. She has published Centre of the Periphery: Three European art historians in Melbourne (ASP, 2008), Hegel’s Owl: The life of Bernard Smith (Power Publications 2016), and co-edited with Rex Butler Antipodean Perspectives: Selected writings of Bernard Smith (Monash University Press).

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