Before and After Science: 2010 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. Until May 2.

It is significant that the Adelaide Biennial coincides with the Art Gallery of South Australia’s purchase of an enormous work by Patricia Piccinini, because most of the works in the biennial implicitly reject the kind of international investment-grade contemporary art – promoted by collectors such as Charles Saatchi – bought by the conspicuously rich and collected by museums to fill their new trophy buildings.

Piccinini’s Big Mother, a hyper-realist fantasy model of an ape-like humanoid holding an infant, is commercial schlock of the vilest kind, managing to exploit both grotesque ugliness and kitsch sentimentality at the same time, which is no mean feat. It is a terrible error of judgment to have spent $200,000 on this horrible object, when those funds could have been employed to build the collection in any number of areas.

A purchase of this scale should have been exhibited as a proposed acquisition, to allow those with a reasonable interest to comment. Instead, it was revealed – with much effort to beat up press interest – as a fait accompli.

The works in the biennial mostly espouse poverty of materials while seeking to evoke mystery and even a kind of enchantment verging on the mystical. The exhibition’s premise is that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy – the catalogue also quotes copiously from literature – and especially in our modern rationalist, managerial and economic philosophy of life.