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The Life and Legacy of Bernard Smith Celebrated at Landmark Symposium


8 November 2012

Bernard Smith is widely regarded as the founder of Australian art history. [Image: Kate Challis]
Bernard Smith is widely regarded as the founder of Australian art history. [Image: Kate Challis]

The pioneering work of the University of Sydney Power Institute's inaugural director and founding Professor of Contemporary Art, Bernard Smith, will be celebrated at a two-day symposium starting tomorrow.

The University will host 'The Legacies of Bernard Smith' Symposium, the capstone event in a collaborative series held across two cities at three locations connected to Smith's work: the Power Institute at the University of Sydney, the University of Melbourne and the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Widely regarded as the founder of Australian art history, Smith (1916-2011) was a radical intellectual, writer and passionate defender of Indigenous Art who left an indelible influence on Australian cultural life. During his time at the Power Institute from 1967 until 1977, he secured more than 60 European artworks for the University Art Gallery and Power collection.

An eclectic mix of Australian and international scholars from history, anthropology, art history and curatorship backgrounds will reflect upon Smith's equally varied life at the largest cooperative event to examine his illustrious career.

Smith's championing of a uniquely Australian artistic culture cannot be overstated, according to Power Professor of Art History and Visual Culture at the University of Sydney, Mark Ledbury.

"As an art historian, an ideas person and as a writer he's very important," Ledbury says. "He's a significant figure in Australian culture, and I think it's sometimes easy to overlook. We're very fond of getting big thinkers over from other countries, but sometimes we neglect significant thinkers, intellectuals and writers who are right here among us.

"[Smith] showed that art history had a social or cultural function; that it wasn't just about looking at pretty pictures, but that actually a lot was at stake when people sit down to represent something in their paintings."

The Melbourne leg of the 'Legacies of Bernard Smith' Symposium was held at the University of Melbourne in September 2012, and featured talks by Warwick Thornton, Marcia Langton and Tracey Moffatt on Smith's fund supporting Indigenous Art.

The symposium is proudly presented by the Power Institute at the University of Sydney, in partnership with the University of Melbourne and the Art Gallery of NSW.


Event details

What: The Legacies of Bernard Smith: a symposium at the University of Sydney 

When: Friday 9 and Saturday 10 November

Where: Day 1 - The Institute Building, City Road, University of Sydney (between Butlin Ave and Darlington Rd), Camperdown

Day 2: Domain Theatre, Art Gallery of NSW, Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney

Book now online 


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Media enquiries: Jocelyn Prasad, 02 9114 1382, jocelyn.prasad@sydney.edu.au

Jacqueline Chowns, 02 9036 5404, 0434 605 018,jacqueline.chowns@sydney.edu.au