Gallery sets down rules after paedophile scandal

GALLERIES have never been quite sure how to deal with art by artists who have disgraced themselves but now they have some guidelines thanks to QAGOMA.

The Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art ran into some flak recently by showing the work of Australian paedophile artist Donald Friend.

His work is still hanging in the exhibition Margaret Olley: A Generous Life, with didactic panels that explain why he's there despite his notoriety.

QAGOMA director Chris Saines says some had found the hanging of Friend's works questionable, although the majority of gallery-goers have not.

Artist Donald Friend in undated photo.
Artist Donald Friend in undated photo.

Still it prompted the question - what to do? Develop a set of guidelines and a policy to determine whether their work should be embraced or rejected.

That would seem an obvious thing for any gallery to do, but according to Saines QAGOMA is the first to do it.

"These guidelines of ours are new," Saines says.

"What we are doing has not been done so we are leading the way, from an Australian perspective."

Saines says the gallery has a few artists in the same category as Donald Friend, including Torres Strait Islander artist Dennis Nona who spent five years in jail after being convicted of sexual assault which left a 12-year-old girl pregnant in the 1990s.

Torres Strait artist Dennis Nona
Torres Strait artist Dennis Nona

The work of artists such as Nona, who has a number of works in the QAGOMA collection, may in future come with annotations or in extremes cases could be excluded from public view or purchase.

QAGOMA published its Guidelines For Managing Ethical Issues Relating to Serious Misconduct by An Artist quietly on Tuesday after it was signed off on by the Queensland Art Gallery Board of Trustees.

It aims to continue to support freedoms of expression "which can include presenting and acquiring for the people of Queensland work that may be aesthetically, socially or politically challenging to some viewers".

Like the Donald Friend works in the current exhibition which, Chris Saines says, have barely caused a ripple outside a few irate art experts.

"That issue has died a death and people are just enjoying the exhibition," Saines says. "Around 170,000 people have already been through the Olley show and we've only had four negative social media posts. Nobody is walking in and saying - this is horrifying. It just isn't happening."

Despite that, the gallery thought it would be worth enshrining its philosophy and practical approach in a document that may now become the blueprint for all Australian art galleries and museums. The reality is, however, that stripping art by artists who have misbehaved from our state galleries would leave them half empty.