On the world stage: Richard Bell - Art Collector

Issue 59, January - March 2012

This profile appeared in the On the world stage feature, part of the annual special issue 50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2012.

The United States tour of Richard Bell’s exhibition I Am Not Sorry keeps getting extended. It opened at Location One, an independent contemporary art organisation in New York, in October 2009. The show then started travelling to private contemporary art foundations and university art museums around the country, and is due to end in 2013.

“They love it,” says Bell.

He believes that the American audience has been better able to view his work simply as contemporary art, free from the baggage that gets in the way of Australians reading it clearly. Bell is disparaging of the way white anthropologists classify (and validate) Aboriginal art, a practice that has extended to the classification of urban Aboriginal art. “It’s easy to be ghettoised. I consider myself an Aboriginal artist, I just don’t make Aboriginal art. Those works of mine assert Aboriginal humanity,” he says and cites the use right up until 1992 of the term terra nullius – uninhabited land – as the official condition of Australia before white settlement. “They didn’t see us as people.”

I Am Not Sorry was the centrepiece of the Location exhibition, which spans the history of Bell’s paintings, photographs and videos. It was curated by Maura Reilly, an American who is currently professor of art theory at Griffith University in Brisbane, where Bell lives. Reilly has held senior curatorial positions in New York and has worked previously at Location One.

During his time in New York he began work on his next video A Blackfella’s Guide to New York. This drew Bell firmly into the rough and tumble of big city life when his New York producer claimed ownership of the copyright. His lawyers are now talking to her lawyers.

Timothy Morrell

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