Peter Fuller, the Celtic midwife and some [other] Northern critics of Southern art

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First published as a foreword to Peter Fuller’s The Australian Scapegoat: Towards an Antipodean Aesthetic (1986), Smith’s essay Some Northern Critics of Southern Art is a personalised account of his encounters with British and American critics who visited Australia in the post-war period. ‘I knew them all. I lived through it. I saw it happening,’ Smith writes. Sir Kenneth Clark was a ‘genius spotter’ who appropriated Nolan and, like Saint Francis, used him to prop-up the ‘waning vigour of British art.’ But Clark’s interest in Australian art was essentially ‘environmental’. Clement Greenberg, who Smith invited to Australia to give the inaugural Power Lecture in Contemporary Art in 1968, preferred figurative ‘Antipodean painting’ to the ‘second-hand’ work of Australian colour-field painters. Bryan Robertson, described elsewhere by Smith as ‘Chief Celtic midwife to our London Australiana’, looked to America for salvation and in doing so, led British art into provinciality. But Peter Fuller alone had the ‘determination to work out a fully-fledged aesthetic for himself’. ‘As I read Fuller’, Smith wrote, ‘I gain the impression frequently that I am traversing my own past’. This paper explores correspondences between Fuller’s aesthetic philosophy and Smith’s own, especially Fuller’s ‘radical critique of late modernism’. Are ‘the trans-national implications’ of the Antipodean exhibition (1959) confirmed, and its manifesto exonerated, in Fuller’s criticism of reductive and anti-human late modernism with its implied kenosis, or ‘emptying out’ of content and feeling?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Legacies Of Bernard Smith
Subtitle of host publicationEssays on Australian Art, History, and Cultural Politics
EditorsJaynie Anderson, Christopher R. Marshall, Andrew Yip
PublisherPower Publications
Number of pages13
ISBN (Print)9780994306432
Publication statusPublished - 01 Aug 2016


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