The balance between cultural and financial value is in the spotlight, with Victorian Liberal Senator James Paterson arguing iconic Jackson Pollock painting Blue Poles should be sold off to help pay down the national debt.
The controversial artwork was snapped up in 1973 with the approval of then-prime minister Gough Whitlam for a record amount of $1.3 million dollars.
It has been housed at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, but is currently on loan to the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
Senator Paterson said it had proven to be a very good investment, massively increasing in value over the last four decades.
“It’s estimated for insurance purposes recently to be worth up to $350 million,” he said.
“But my view is that it’s not appropriate for the Federal Government to own a single piece of art worth $350 million, it would be one of the most expensive paintings in the world.”
“It’ll only be worth something to taxpayers when we sell it.
“Some people feel like they’ve got a real attachment to Blue Poles, and I understand that, but I don’t think it’s a good enough reason for the Australian Government to tie up such a significant amount of money in a single painting which is hung in a gallery in Canberra most of the year, and which most Australians won’t ever see face to face in their lifetimes.”
Money ‘could be reinvested in Australian art’
Senator Paterson said there was also the possibility some of the funds could be spent on other artwork, and conceded there was a need to protect assets of cultural significance to the country.
“But I think in this case, $350 million on an American painting is not a very good investment for an Australian gallery.”
“Think about the Australian work that we could buy if we just quarantined half of that money to be reinvested in a current Australian artist, or Australian art for the gallery.
“It’s certainly a significant painting, but it’s not one that’s particularly tied to Australia’s cultural heritage, and it’s not one that particularly speaks to our cultural experience.”
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told Sky News he was pleased Senator Paterson was looking for ways to improve the budget bottom line.
“It’s a matter for the board of the National Gallery to determine how they manage their portfolio,” he said.
“It is a national treasure, and I can’t see it being sold.”