Missing in Action: Franck Gohier

Glenn Barkley

There is an issue in Australian contemporary art that seems to make a neat cleaving between the work of Indigenous artists from the Top End and ‘the rest’—pretty much everyone else in the country. There is still a reflective dominant thought in the value of separating artwork in museums and art galleries into geographical, social or cultural context, which ignores the fact that we all exist in the world, all the time, right now.

This is no more keenly felt in a regional space like Darwin, which every year is invaded by hordes from Melbourne and Sydney always after the next big thing at the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA). ‘The Telstras’ are, rightfully so, a celebration of Indigenous art, but also an example of the art world at its rapacious worse. How would you feel if you lived in Darwin?

Cowgirl and Ringer  2004
Synthetic polymer paint, tuna cans, nails and buttons on Ironwood and Stringybark. Artbank collection, purchased 2005.

"...a hoard of linen-wearing, sweaty white folk came running over the hill, looking as though they were playing parts in a zombie art version of 'The Sound of Music'..."

I bring NATSIAA up in this context as for many in the art world their only glimpse of the complexity of Darwin is through their diligent yearly visits, while for others it comes from hearing their reports about the event. Conversely, for artists in Darwin their view of the southern art world is probably also equally askew.

One of the funniest things I have ever seen at an opening was standing with Franck Gohier at the doors of Darwin’s Museum  and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT), in 2003, just after the announcement that Richard Bell’s incredibly  prescient painting Scientia E Metaphysica (Bells Theorem) (2003) was the NATSIAA winner; a painting that was causing a   lot of hand wringing among some ‘traditional’ Aboriginal art dealers, and pre-empted what I was about to witness.

“It doesn’t seem so bad”, I said to Gohier, who had warned me of otherwise well behaved collector’s ‘bad behavior’ in trying to beat the art advisors from the big smoke into the galleries. “You wait”, he replied. As if on cue, a hoard of linen-wearing, sweaty white folk came running over the hill, looking as though they were playing parts in a zombie art version of The Sound of Music; and all heading straight for us!

We survived, but that incident always provides one of the subtexts to my perception of the art of the Northern Territory: funny, scary, surreal and driven. Gohier’s work reflects the diversity of views and cultures in Darwin, while also extending outwards in to the world. It could only come out of the Darwin culture, and Gohier is right in the middle of this mélange: now no longer such an avid participant as he once was, but rather a ‘senior established artist’; a sage like, bemused onlooker.


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