Controversy broke out last year between the Australia Council and a number of the private patrons of Australia’s participation at the Venice Biennale. The Australia Council had introduced significant changes to the selection process. This would see it take a more active role in the selection of artists through an application process, rather than delegating selection to a committee in consultation with its patrons.

Part of the outrage expressed by some of Australia’s most eminent patrons came from a sense of betrayal: they had not been consulted, and the expectation seemed to be that they would continue their patronage with limited involvement. One director was quoted in the  Sydney Morning Herald: “It is inconceivable that they did not think they should have at least a conversation with the likes of Simon Mordant and Neil Balnaves [two of the largest benefactors] and various others.” Mordant himself said that he “was particularly shocked and dismayed that there’d been no consultation,” and was reported to have said that he would withdraw his support for the 2019 Biennale. While the issue has passed – and at no point led to serious public questioning of the quality of Australia’s artists – it highlights some of the...

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