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NGA & consideration of “dynamic discussion

Alex Greenberger, Billionaire calls for removal of unflattering portrait from National Gallery of Australia, ARTnews, 15 May 2024

Vincent Namatjira with various portraits by him, including one of Gina Rinehart, third from left in the bottom row. ©VINCENT NAMATJIRA/ COPYRIGHT AGENCY/PHOTO IWANTJA ARTS/COURTESY THE ARTIST AND IWANTJA ARTS.

Gina Rinehart, the richest person in Australia, has reportedly called on Canberra’s National Gallery of Australia to take down a painting of her by Aboriginal artist Vincent Namatjira.

It wasn’t immediately clear what had moved Rinehart, a donor to the National Gallery of Australia, to make the request, but it was clear, at least, that Namatjira’s portrait was viewed as being not the kindest representation of her. Both the Guardian and the Sydney Morning Herald used the word “unflattering” to describe the picture, which renders her skin a pinkish color, exaggerates the folds on her chin, and turns her lips downward into a frown.

The painting is one of nearly two dozen portraits that appears in Namatjira’s current retrospective at the museum, which traveled the show from the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide.

In Australia, Namatjira is well-known and much-loved. He became the first Indigenous artist to win the Archibald Prize, a prestigious Australian award for portraiture, in 2020.

Rinehart earned her fortune in the mining business and is currently chairwoman of Hancock Prospecting. She has periodically made national headlines in Australia for a string of controversies, most notably her decision in 2022 to stop funding a netball team after an Indigenous player asked not to have the Hancock Prospecting logo featured on her uniform.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, in April, Rinehart personally asked NGA director Nick Mitzevich and NGA chair Ryan Stokes to deinstall the Namatjira portrait. The museum declined to do so. “The National Gallery welcomes the public having a dialogue on our collection and displays,” the museum said in a statement to the publication.

The reasons for her request remain unknown, but the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Hancock Prospecting associates had complained that the museum was “doing the bidding of the Chinese Communist Party.” Rinehart, for her part, has spoken highly of the Chinese government.

Many have viewed the situation as an example of a billionaire refusing to understand what art should do. In the Australian Financial Review, journalist Mark Di Stefano wrote, “My goodness, get a grip. Rinehart seems to want everything that comes with money and power, and influence, but without the other bits. She talks endlessly about being a proud Australian, but can’t bring herself to having a laugh, or taking the piss, both central to the said national myth.”

 


See also: Gina Rinehart demands National Gallery of Australia remove her portrait