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.
The retrieval of things past
The database doyenne of Australian colonial culture
A Most Generous Scholar: Joan Kerr: Art and Architectural Historian
by Susan Steggall
LhR Press, $35 pb, 269 pp, 9780646593050
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Sheridan Palmer is an art historian, curator and an Honorary Fellow at the University of Melbourne. She is writing a biography of Bernard Smith.
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