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Doug Hall

When invited by Morry Schwartz, Anna’s husband and proprietor of Schwartz Publishing, which owns Black Inc., to write an account of the Anna Schwartz Gallery (ASG), Doug Hall initially declined but changed his mind after realising that it would enable him to write with a fresh perspective, having returned to Melbourne after twenty years as director of Queensland Art Gallery. The result, Present Tense: Anna Schwartz Gallery and thirty-five years of contemporary Australian art – which takes its title from the 52nd Venice Biennale (2007), Think with the Senses – Feel with the Mind: Art in the Present Tense, curated by Robert Storr – is a periphrastic straddling of art history, social history, and biography, inclined to reminiscence over analysis.

Featuring eighty-nine chapters of varying length, the text mostly provides overviews of the artists represented by ASG, set within a chronicle of Anna Schwartz’s evolution as a gallerist. This broad narration is interspersed with chapters on a few key late-twentieth-century art dealers – sometimes to narrate artist defections to ASG – as well as state museum redesigns, biennales, and even a chapter on Anna’s wardrobe.

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In the art world, the question of who shapes public taste is a perennial favourite. Magazines like to rank the heavyweights. Last year’s ArtReview’s Power 100 included an assortment of global dealers and collectors; Ai Weiwei and Pussy Riot made it too. While such ladders of influence invariably include museum staff and art historians, it is clear that Jenny Holzer’s aphoristic ‘Truism’, Money Creates Taste, was prescient.

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Australia’s major galleries, with the odd exception, have generally conducted their exhibition programs to show that fanfare for blockbusters is reserved for exhibitions that come from somewhere other than Australia. The die was cast long ago. In the past thirty years, temporary exhibitions have increasingly consumed the lives of public galleries – and blockbusters represent the embodiment of this phenomenon.

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