By Michael Giles

IT has arrived!
The $1.25 million ‘Collection of Social Realist Art’, bequeathed to the people of Wonthaggi by veteran art critic and collector Robert Smith, is here in town, now.
It was delivered to the Wonthaggi Union Community Arts Centre some weeks ago and the curators and art experts, employed by the Bass Coast Shire Council, have already spent several days appraising, cataloguing and storing the works at the arts centre.
But like the tree that falls in the forest… art isn’t art unless it is seen.
So when are we going to see it?
Wendy Crellin spoke of the collection during her acceptance speech at the Wonthaggi Australia Day celebrations.
Mrs Crellin was excited about the collection and its potential to be the catalyst for a regional art gallery to be established in Wonthaggi.
“The council has made the proper arrangements for storage and security but we’d like to see it on display, initially in the Old Wonthaggi Post Office. That’s what everyone wants including the three local councillors; Crs Larke, Tessari and Brown.
“But ultimately, we’re lobbying for a regional art gallery to be established here with this collection at its heart.
“I’m sure that when the shire does have a curator appointed that they will want to put on exhibitions and we will start to see the pieces in the collection.”
There may, however, be some argy-bargy about the use of the Old Post Office building, the former library, on the corner of Watt Street and McBride Avenue. The shire’s administration may need it for further office expansion.
This is a super positive story of generosity, of a challenge accepted by the shire and of great potential for the future, building on the glorious mining days of the past.
We’re often told the shire executives get sick of the negative press.
What a photo opportunity, as the curators pull out one of the lithographs by the 19th century French realist, Honore Daumier.
There are no fewer than 216 of his works in the collection.
And what about the pieces by Rembrandt and Picasso, no less?
The council has already paid eminent art consultant, Rodney James, up to $24,400 “to investigate, audit and appraise, provide storage solutions and future management planning (including staffing resource for curation and exhibiting) for the Collection”.
Mr James has provided council with a report which explains the collection, its approximate value range ($850,000 to $1,250,000), suitable options for short term storage and the expected short term costs for transport and modifying a preferred storage location.
At the time he did his report, tabled at the September 2016 council meeting, he said a feature of the cache of works is a “major collection of mid-20th century works by the respected social realist artist Noel Counihan. The collection of Counihan works on paper is extensive (83 works in total) and is on par with major Australian museum collections,” he said.
High praise indeed.
“A second major strength of the collection,” he said, “is the component of graphic art by English, French, Dutch/Flemish, German, Spanish and Mexican artists. Examples of works by a number of more famous artists including Rembrandt and Picasso…”
The council said it could cost a further $38,321 to pack and transport the works, to undertake structural modifications at the arts centre including shelving and climate control.
That figure doesn’t include insurance.
It does, however, include funding for a part-time curator.
It’s exciting. Art is supposed to be uplifting, it’s supposed to be talked about.
The controversy that surrounded the purchase of Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles by Goff Whitlam (for $1.3 million mind you) back in 1973 is a key part of the narrative now.
You can’t buy that sort of publicity.
Let’s have a sneak peek. Or at least tell us when we can get a bit of a teaser. What does the Rembrandt look like? What’s the most valuable piece in the collection?

Waiting for art launch

THE ‘Robert Smith’ art collection has indeed arrived in Wonthaggi. The Bass Coast Shire Council’s communications department confirmed that fact this week.
So, why not say something about it sooner?
“Out of deference to the donor, we were waiting to see if he wanted to be involved in some sort of launch,” said a spokesperson for the shire.
“And it’s not something you can finish in a few days. There’s a lot of work still to be done,” he said.
Aged 88, it may be sometime before Mr Smith can attend a launch with ribbon sandwiches and a cup of tea, even if he wanted to.
Let’s see something from the collection now, we suggested.
“People will be asking if they can see it too. We’re not ready for an exhibition,” was the response.
But, after playing phone-tag, arrangements have been made to get a sneak peek… watch this space!