Writing + Curating + Projects

Boycott call prompts questions about self-publishing

Art dealer Beverly Knight has called for a boycott of a monograph by collector Pat Corrigan. We investigate the line between vanity driven publishing and the philanthropic gesture.

Earlier this month, Queensland freighting magnate, art collector and philanthropist, Pat Corrigan, launched a monograph on the art of Indigenous artist Sally Gabori (Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda), a book that he paid for and published under Macmillan Art Publishing.

Titled Gabori: the Corrigan Collection of paintings by Sally Gabori, there was no veiling of the fact that this publication was a document of Corrigan’s collection. So what’s the problem?

A week after the launch, Aboriginal art dealer Beverly Knight made a public call to boycott the book, petitioning the major galleries not to sell the publication on the grounds that it ‘ignored the artist’s moral rights’.  According to Knight, the book features second-rate paintings that should never have entered the market. She told The Australian: ‘It’s a murky book…Those works were put away not to be sold.’​

Galleries responses have varied.

The Queensland Art Gallery confirmed that they were stocking, and selling, the book in question. Director of QAGOMA Chris Saines said: ‘While I understand her (Knight’s) concerns with the book and respect her right to raise them as she has, I have explained to Beverly why I am unwilling to support her request to withdraw it from sale in our stores. I have no further comment beyond that.’

The NGV bookstores confirmed that they are not stocking the publication. ‘We decided not to stock the book while there were some concerns raised about some of the content,’ said an NGV spokesperson.

The Art Gallery of NSW told ArtsHub that it is currently considering the content of the petition. ‘The key consideration for the Gallery in this case is that the community and the family are consulted as part of the publication process, and they are clearly acknowledged in this book,’ said a spokesperson for the Gallery.

The NGA confirmed that the book was available in their shop in a limited number but would not comment on the topic.

Corrigan declined to comment on the call, saying he did not want to fuel it with further comment.

But the case raises broader issues of the responsibilities of publication in an era where digiti​sation and the availability of cheap design software has made everyone a publisher.

Self-publication and the artist’s ambition

First, some definitions. Vanity publishing and self-publishing are alternatives to traditional publishing, the difference being that the cost is borne by the author (or patron) and not carried by the publisher, who traditionally derives their income from book sales.

The phrase “Vanity Publishing” appears as early as 1941, and has a slightly derogatory tone. Also known as Subsidy Publisher, it is basically a production service – a “one stop shop” for a fee. You pay someone to be your publisher; they generally own the ISBN and receive royalties from the book’s sale.

Self-publishing is when all costs, production, marketing and distribution is borne by the author and authors retain all rights and receive 100% of the profit.

Many great authors self-published, among them Mark Twain, William Blake, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, Anais Nin, and Lewis Carrol, whol paid the expenses of publishing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The Arts Law Centre of Australia has done some good work on this topic steering writers and artists through the quagmire.​

But, in terms of artist’s catalogues and monographs, self-publication is now so common it is almost a case of who hasn’t thrown a dollar at a publication on their work?

Today, artists more than often need to be pro-active and take their careers into their  own hands. Self-publishing – or working with a vanity press – could be viewed as ‘a standard template for ambition’, confidence in your work.

Let’s be honest, we all want the coffee table book – big glossy pics of your work, an essay that gives weight to what you are doing, and as sense of arrival and place. Often these are subsidized by galleries, often by a grant, and at other times paid for by a patron or foundation.

One of the factors in the decision to produce a book is whether the artist is willing to contribute to the costs of publishing,’ said Carol Morgan, publicity director for Harry N. Abrams, the art book publisher.

Many art books on the market are “assisted” by stakeholders, even when publishing through a traditional house. But really, in today’s world that is just business and we are naïve to expect otherwise.

The link between increased sales or expanded career opportunities and audiences is hard to directly gauge, though it is widely considered that such a publication acts as a catalyst.

Writer on this topic Daniel Grant believes: ‘Any artist who self-publishes a catalogue trusts that there will be benefits seen at some point in the future.’

The Corrigan case

Patrick Corrigan is a giant of a man in all sense of the term – a successful businessman, gregarious in character and big hearted when it comes to the arts. In the true spirit of philanthropy, he sought to commemorate an artist who – surprisingly – to date had not had a significant monograph published despite her work held in collections internationally, most significantly the Musée du Quai Branly, France and the Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art, the Netherlands.

Corrigan’s gesture is in line with a very long tradition of arts patronage and an equally established tradition of self-publishing. This is the third book he has published.

‘Through this book I hope to provide a special window into Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda’s (Mrs Gabori) story and how she came to paint,’ Corrigan said at the book’s launch.

It was also a timely moment that followed Gabori’s death, 13 February 2015. She started her career late at 81 and was prolific, despite painting for a short five years. Corrigan own’s 106 of her works, and they sit within his passion for collecting indigenous art. ​He has been awarded an AM for his contribution to the arts and only this week, was given the Keys to the City by Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate.

On the occasion Pro Vice-Chancellor of Bond University, Catherine O’Sullivan, said: ‘Thanks to Dr Corrigan’s generosity, Bond University is home to Australia’s largest private collection of Indigenous art on public display…His patronage of the University’s annual Indigenous Gala and Art Auction, which, since 2010, has raised more than $660,000 to fund Bond scholarships and student support for promising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.’

The Corrigan Walk at the university hang’s works by Sally Gaboi gifted by Corrigan.

Beverly Knight is equally respected in her field, the Executive Director of Alcaston Gallery, she has been dealer of Gabori’s work since 2006 with notable clients such as Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria, the National Gallery in Canberra and the Art Gallery of NSW.

Mornington Island Art Centre, where Gabori painted, supplied works to Knight over that time; however it was not an exclusive relationship. Corrigan also bought works from the centre as well as other Indigenous art dealers in building his collection.

Validation: bolstering market

The elephant in this room is the “validation” of the paintings via such a substantial publication.

The book has been written by Candida Baker (ed.), Djon Mundine, Fiona Foley, Adam Knight and Greg Weight, and was launched (20 April) by Rupert Myer AM, Chair of the Australian Council for the Arts, at Deutscher and Hackett – that is pretty serious validation.

With each of those names is a staking of reputation.

This is not uncommon with artist catalogues, collection publications or, more broadly, any self-published work. The desire is to expand knowledge, credibility and, yes to use an old-fashioned word, status.

When published in the context of an exhibition it loosely sits under the umbrella of promotion. When an artist chooses to produce a publication outside that frame it sits more in the realm of career validation. And one of the outcomes of validation for an artist usually is more visibility, more exhibition, more sales.

When a patron takes on this role as publisher, he too can – deliberately or as a by-product – be promoting the work he owns with consequences for its value and place in the public consciousness.

Regardless of what anyone feels about the quality of the works held in Corrigan’s collection presented in this publication, at no point did it attempt to hide the fact that it was a collection corralled and celebrated by an individual. It’s title is as transparent as they come: Gabori: the Corrigan Collection of paintings by Sally Gabori.

Ultimately, this transparency is perhaps the most important factor in what will always be a difficult area.

Corrigan said at its launch: ‘There are artists that not only paint from the heart but put their soul into their work. Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda (Mrs Gabori) was one of these artists. Her artwork represents the vitality of contemporary Australian art, and through this book I hope to provide a special window into Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda’s (Mrs Gabori) story and how she came to paint.’

This is a significant book celebrating an important artist. That is more important than who published it or why.

Gabori: the Corrigan Collection of paintings by Sally Gabori.

Macmillan Art Publishing

ISBN 9781922252098

Hardback – 192 pages

RRP $100.00

Top image: Robert ​The,Catcher in the Rye ©2006/2010; Source

First published on ArtsHub 4 June 2015.

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