On Friday evening the Francis Bacon exhibition officially opened at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Premier Barry O’Farrell was to preside, on whose watch a number of gallery staff have been summarily sacked and fine arts courses in the TAFE (Technical and Further Education) system almost as summarily deprived of government funding, with devastating effect on the equitable provision of studio-based arts education in the state. A demonstration was called for, and happened. Maybe two hundred of us gathered outside the gallery with banners and art works, chanting and singing and staging a mock funeral, and handing leaflets to the invited guests. One bejewelled matron, when approached by the Art Student with a leaflet, told her imperiously to get a job.
In what looked like a display of political pusillanimity, the Premier didn’t risk having to face some of the people whose lives he has disrupted. George Souris, Minister for Arts and, among other things, Horse-Racing, did the honours instead. Invited guests were asked to turn their backs during his speech in solidarity with the sacked staff and stranded students. Evidently some did, and there was little if any applause. Outside, as he spoke, we chanted, ‘Save TAFE art’. Guests continued to arrive and I noticed that the man on the door was very quick to open the door for them and slow to close it after them, thereby ensuring, perhaps deliberately, that the door was open for as much of the speech as possible, allowing our uncouth ruckus to be heard inside.
This probably deserves more than a sonnet, but a sonnet is all I’ve got:
Sonnet 7: Rally at the Gallery
Swallows, bats and other pests
perform outside the gallery.
Some fly, some squeak, some accost guests
to talk about O’Farrell. He
was due to launch the Francis Bacon.
‘Barry, Barry, we’re not fakin’…’
‘We want to keep art education
for the future generation.’
”Oh, get a job.’ ‘Art is work.’
Don’t celebrate dead money-spinners,
snatching all funds from beginners.
No art, no soul. We’d go berserk!
Inside, poor Francis’ heads explode.
Bats claim the night on Gallery Road.