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Essay on Patricia Piccinini.
An edited version of this eassy was featured in art magazine "East West Arts"

The rise of Patricia Piccinini, "The Darling of Australian art" 1, is the defining phenomenon of the Australian art scene in the formative years of the 21st century. Her success is a demonstration of the incestuous uncritical sycophantic nature of the cultural intelligentsia. Art 'critics' seem more intent in demonstrating their awareness of cultural fashion and scramble to outdo one another in the praise they lavish on an already critically acclaimed artist rather than provide any clear critical analysis of the artist in question.

"A list of internationally renowned artists who grew up in the provinces could read like this: ...Leonardo, Duchamp, Dali....El Greco... Piccinini..." so wrote Peter Hill in the Metro section of the SMH, Friday 4 April 2003.

"...artist Patricia Piccinini, five times named by this publication as one of Australia's 50 most collectible artists, has achieved another career milestone with her selection as Australia's representative at the world's most prestigious art fair, the Venice Biennale." 2

Considering Piccinini commissions others to produce the work attributed to her, this begs some questions.

Peter Hennessey, is Piccinini's husband, he is also a board member of the Australia Council in the "New Media" Board 3 and is, along with other board members,
responsible for the grants made to artists. The central criterion for the existence of this board is that it supports collaborations between artist & non artist:
                                          "The New Media Arts Board supports collaborative arts practices...  where artists collaborate and combine conventional artforms to create
new forms of artistic expression. It is sometimes referred to as hybrid arts. As an example, this kind of work could include a collaboration between a visual artist and a performer, or a dancer, writer and a sculptor; there are many combinations. More commonly, teams of artists with expertise in a range of arts practices will collaborate to create a work." 4

Unremarkable maybe, until one considers that the work attributed to Piccinini is not actually created by her. As Piccinini herself has said on the matter:
"I couldn't find a way to depict these new ideas in oil and so it meant I had no skills. And then I thought if I can't do anything, I can do everything if I work with other
people, and that's when I started collaborating." 5

Under the conditions stipulated by the Australia Council, "collaborations" are seen as a bona fide means of artistic production, thus, superficially, that works attributed to Piccinini are claimed to be a "collaboration" might not be too far from the truth. The argument for collaboration though unravels: the finished works are instead attributed as being her sole creation; no attribution is made to any other artist(s). In no circumstance is there ever an exhibition on "Piccinini's Collaborations" or an exhibition of collaborative artists amongst whom Piccinini appears. In Venice it is only Piccinini who is promoted as representing Australia, not a collaboration of artists. It is a bizarre definition of a collaboration when those with whom she purportedly collaborated remain unknown and only one person, Piccinini, is promoted as the creator, exhibitor and artist. The only input Piccinini seems to have with the works attributed to her is that she commissioned them. This means that these works are not a collaboration: Piccinini simply outsources. The word "collaboration" is simply an attempt to provide her with a pretext to claim that the work created by others on her behalf is wholly her own.

"Piccinini is sensitive about how some people might react when they discover that she doesn't actually make the [works] herself, the concept of the artist being the
generator of the ideas but not necessarily the person executing them having been out of fashion until recently.... Indeed , some....are 'vaguely suspicious' of this
directoral style... Piccinini rejects the notion that artists should always make their own work." 6  The cynicism in the use of the term "collaboration" is exposed. Although it provides the veneer of bona fide artwork, it makes it difficult to continue praising Piccinini at the expense of the other "collaborators", thus the term "collaboration" is transformed to mean "direction" instead. And, realising that the idea that Piccinini's reputation might be diminished if it became obvious that Piccinini is only a cog in a production-machine, "Minchin [director of Tolarno Gallery, Melbourne, and agent for Piccinini] is keen to dispel any notion that Hennessey is a dual creator of her client's work".6

When it comes to international attention by foreign journalists, the pretence to "collaboration" is jettisoned completely. Convinced of her veracity as an artist, because works attributed to her are being exhibited at the Australian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, Piccinini is interviewed by Chloe Kinsman in tema celeste contemporaryart 98 issn 1720-7541 pp.58-61. There is no mention that the works in question have been created by others on Piccinini's behalf. The interviewer asks: "Your creations in Still Life with Stem Cells and The Young Family have a compelling veracity; their skins look as if they would be warm to touch. What role does the hyper-reality of your aesthetic play?" Piccinini, in her answer, does not attempt to correct the interviewer's apparent assumption that she is the creator; she neither claims that the works are a "collaboration"... nor do we get to find out that the hyper-reality she is praised for in is instead the work of someone else.

Art is about an artist being able to articulate their own ideas. It takes more effort to articulate an idea than to have it. Piccinini can't do that. She has ideas, which
require someone else's creative ability to make them a reality. Every idea needs some modification to make it work, which means that the "collaborators'" contribution must at least be equal to Piccinini's... Piccinini's ideas therefore only work because of the contribution of those with the skills she does not have. The works produced in her name by others are not unlike any other commission any other artist, illustrator or designer might receive, but in this instance the person doing the commissioning gets the credit.

One wonders whether the use of the term "collaboration" was one employed to win favour with the Australia Council? or whether it is simply employed to dress her work with legitimacy? It may simply be happenstance that the terminology of the new media board is the terminology adopted by Piccinini and husband to camouflage the fact that Piccinini hasn't the skill to create anything herself. With respect to her husband, one wonders whether Piccinini's success might be attributable to his reputation as a board member of the Australia Council and that sycophants might hope that by praising his wife Hennessey might reciprocate the favour in future even if that has not been openly discussed? In Australia it is who you know, not what you know, or whether you have any ability that will influence whether you will succeed... as Piccinini's success without actually having any skill or talent amply demonstrates. In summary, the bankruptcy of the Australian arts intelligentsia is embodied by Patricia Piccinini. As with all advertising, Piccinini and husband are marketing a product, Patricia Piccinini, and marketing that product with the assistance of the Australia Council very successfully (at the very least in respect to the Australia Council's funding of the Venice Biennale).

1 quoted from the cover of the Weekend Australian Magazine 3-4/5/2003
2 Michael Hutak  Australian Art Collector,ISSN 9 1328-9586,  issue 24 April - June 2003.
3 "new media arts" (accurate at April-Aug 2003)
4 http-//
5 Channel  9's  Sunday Show 16/2/2003
6 The weekend Australian Magazine 3-4 /5/2003 Katrina Strickland

... The New York Art scene is unconcerned by definitions of art; it is instead guided by the snob-value of what is exhibited. The Robert Miller Gallery is one such NYC gallery. This gallery exhibits the work others have manufactured on behalf of Piccinini. 

For such galleries art is no more than a means of posturing intended to impress upon a social clique pretentions of cultural superiority. I sent them this email:

          villy manilly [Milly Vanilli]
          Fri, 19 Mar 2004 13:49:28 +1100 
          Demetrios Vakras <> 

It is interesting how the art world is so dependant on accepting the 
merits of an artist simply on the basis that someone before has ... & 
that the merit of any particular artist is not something that has been 
arrived at by any independent analysis. 

.... It is in this respect that anyone can appreciate more fully why 
Duchamp considered art, and the culture that produces it, a fraud. 

When Milly Vanilly were exposed as frauds - they merely mimed & danced 
to songs written by others and sung by others - they lost any 
credibility. But that's the music scene.... 

Yet fraud in art makes the practitioner a cause celebre. An artist can 
mime & dance to work created solely by others... Hence we end with 
Piccinini who your gallery is representing. 

She herself has made no secret that she  has "no skills" (re sunday 
and instead claims she "collaborates" ... a disingenuous description on 
how she with her husband commission others to create on her behalf works 
which are then claimed to be entirely her own without any attribution to 
the so-called "collaborators". 

Duchamp is correct - the art world is a fraud .... Galleries like yours 
perpetuate this cultural fraud. Who cares as long as you make money?

© demetrios vakras