In a sea of boring art one man stood out – Bert Ernie. I am Bert Ernie, serious and very talented, and yes, I have a massive ego when it comes to my art. This article is my criticism of the 2021 version of the 50 Squared art prize held by the Brunswick Street Gallery. When the gallery announced the results of the judging, I was very disappointed. I had invested over 200 hours in my painting – Siemens PLM – The Conquest of Bread. I knew it was absolutely masterful in its conception and its execution. My painting is a multi-faceted work that would have different meanings to the spectrum of people who I hoped would see it. And this was why I gave it the title I did. It was a huge and important clue. And it flew right over the heads of the ‘art world’ judge.
So let’s look at what won. Exhibit by Jarrad Martyn. The judge (Kimberley Moulton, Senior Curator South Eastern Aboriginal Collections) wrote the following which I will dissect.
I was instantly taken by this painting by Jarrad Martyn titled ‘Exhibit’ both for its exquisite painterly qualities and captivating subject matter. Drawn in by the plumes of white matter into what looks like a gallery space you could be in any museum or art gallery in the world, from the NGV to the Met there is no clue to the geography of place however the universal experience of a museum and also the increasing presence of deep cleaning and people in hazmat suits are unfortunately no longer a foreign occurrence. The use of oil paint and warm colour creates a soft glow that emanates from the work, perhaps its early morning or late in the evening. Although the presumed cleaning of the gallery is taking place COVID-19 is not necessarily the subject matter here, I read themes of issues that are pertinent to our world today, health of people, the deconstruction of colonial institutions and monuments, the feelings of isolation and contemplation in a world that has dramatically changed in a short period of time. The empty frame perhaps alluding to the removal of a work, we are left to wonder why. The monument behind the human figure on the mounted horse both looks to be cast with a shadow from the dull light of the room but potentially could also be seen as splashed with red paint. Is this a deep clean for the disease of racism in these spaces or the smoking white chemical symbolic of the whitewash of history that so often permeates the art and cultural histories of institutions? There is an emptiness or a feeling of aloneness here, the empty chairs, the missing work, the figure alone and looking downwards concentrating hard at the job at task, but pushing onwards – feelings of what we have felt much of in recent times. When reading this work it inspires many questions, conceptually it is dynamic and although we may not understand the narrative from the outset, it is relatable in many ways. Congratulations Jarrad on your work which holds a great depth of ideas and beautifully realised in your chosen medium. – Kimberley Moulton
My view is that Jarrad Martyn’s painting is a good painting, not a great one, and nowhere near as masterful as mine. I contend that everything Kimberley Moulton wrote praising the winner applied to my painting – and then some. The funny thing is they hung the two paintings right next to each other, and Ms Moulton should have seen that my painting was better in every sense of the word. But as Jacqui Burnes (manager of the gallery) made it quite clear to me during a brief discussion – it was the judge’s opinion, and that’s what matters. And that is true. I have no problem with that. It’s as meaningful in the same sense as an ‘expert’ pronouncing that the color purple is the best color in the world, and an average person such as myself saying – ‘no I think green is the best color’. It is totally subjective. But I believe Ms Moulton did not know I had actually painted a rainbow of colors.
Now let me go through the finer points of the judge’s praise for the winning painting.
“I read themes of issues that are pertinent to our world today, health of people, the deconstruction of colonial institutions….”
And what – my painting is not about issues pertinent to our world today? Are you for real – my painting is about an extremely important problem to a vast majority of this world’s inhabitants – the enormous (and growing) gap between the wealth of a few and the rest of us who remain in poverty. And I would contend that this ‘problem of wealth’ is far more important than “the disease of racism in these spaces or the smoking white chemical symbolic of the whitewash of history that so often permeates the art and cultural histories of institutions”. The clue to my conceptual painting is in the title – The Conquest of Bread. Even if you didn’t know of the anarcho-communist manifesto by Peter Kropotkin, surely the fallback position would be the understanding of the use of bread as slang for money. Even failing that, I would expect upon having read (or heard) the title, I would expect any viewer to then understand that my painting was a lot more conceptual and having multiple meanings than upon first appearances. I asked the gallery manager about the judging process and if they read out the painting titles; Jacqui assured that this was the case, and the judging took place as they had hung the paintings in their ultimate place on the wall. But again it is indeed the judges’s prerogative to have their views. It’s quite clear to me that Kimberley Moulton didn’t even have the slightest clue about my painting – its powerful conceptual value flew right over her head – she just saw a boat.
“exquisite painterly qualities and captivating subject matter”
Are you fucking kidding me! Painting a work of photorealism on that scale, of that complexity is supremely masterful; Kimberley Moulton obviously thinks Mr Martyn has more technical skills than me. I expect this from an art curator – they have little understanding of the technical qualities of a painting. The art world is full of wankers who write and talk about art, and yet don’t produce any actual art themselves, let alone strive to develop any masterful skill at it. As for “captivating subject matter” I would contend that my painting is going to hold the viewer’s eye for a lot longer that Mr Martyn’s simple composition compared to my art with the various mergings of layers of photo and CAD drawing.
“When reading this work it inspires many questions, conceptually it is dynamic and although we may not understand the narrative from the outset, it is relatable in many ways.”
Yep. This applies to both works. It’s just that a painting about the art world is more appealing to someone in the art world than some old boat. And I am finally at peace with myself and have given up my intense effort (for a quarter of a century now) to get a ‘foot in the door’ of the ‘art world.’ I now don’t want any part of it. It stinks. The contemporary art world is overwhelmingly populated by elitist idiots who promote good (but not great) artists to the mantle of masters. My belief is that Siemens PLM – The Conquest of Bread is truly a masterpiece and in due course I will get some respect for this criticism written here – challenging the art world with their tribal and elitist position within the larger framework of the wider world.