Mr Ioannou, the private dealer at the centre of last year’s bitter split in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, yesterday accused award organisers of discriminating against his clients.

He said a “vicious whispering campaign” was to blame for none of the artists associated with his gallery — including Tommy Watson and Helen McCarthy — being named among the 93 works shortlisted this year.

“There were some great works in there,” Mr Ioannou said. “Had somebody else put them in, some if not all of them would have been accepted.”

Last year’s awards were marred by dramas after seven remote art centres withdrew 14 shortlisted works to protest against the inclusion of art associated with Mr Ioannou. While five of his artists were named as finalists last year, Mr Ioannou told The Australian it was “fairly obvious” why the four works he entered this time had been rejected.

“I put it down to last year’s protest, which was pretty much a disgrace,” he said.

One of the more controversial figures in Aboriginal art, Mr Ioannou is aware of rumours, swirling around the Aboriginal art scene that he underpays, mistreats or exploits his artists.

But he said no one had ever presented any evidence of wrongdoing — which he denied — and he had nothing to hide.

Url: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25855495-16947,00.html

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Gallery: Agathon Gallery Sydney ,