The Legacies of Bernard Smith: Essays on Australian Art, history and cultural politics
Power Publications $39.99 pb, 372 pp, 9780994306432
A persistent fascination attaches to those who help break the new wood, and so it is with Bernard Smith (1916–2011). His contribution is foundational to the study of the arts in Australia. Smith was for more than sixty years the country’s leading art historian, but he was also an educator, curator, newspaper critic, collector, memoirist, and biographer. Even as an artist his work has acquired an aura of significance. When I was last at the National Gallery of Australia, one of the large and rather tenebrous canvases he painted in the early 1940s was hanging alongside work by James Gleeson as an example of early Australian surrealism.
The Legacies of Bernard Smith arose from a series of symposia held at the University of Melbourne and the Power Institute in 2012, a year after Smith’s death at the age of ninety-four. There are twenty-one chapters in all, covering many and various topics. It is an interesting collection, but I suspect that we still don’t have a clear vantage on Smith’s long and distinguished career, and that there is much more to say about his influence.