Abstract idea to cash in on Pollock

Abstract idea to cash in on Pollock

By Rob Harris

NATIONAL treasure Blue Poles should be sold to pay off debt, a Liberal senator says.

The abstract expressionist painting, by American artist Jackson Pollock, was controversially bought in 1973 for $1.3 million – then a world record price for a contemporary American painting.

The National Gallery of Australia purchase was approved by then prime minister Gough Whitlam.

Today, the near 5m-wide work is understood to be insured for about $350 million.

It is currently on loan to Britain, where it is a star attraction at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Victorian senator James Paterson said Blue Poles had been a “great investment” for the Commonwealth but it was now time to “cash in”.

“It’s not appropriate for the Federal Government to own a single piece of art worth $350 million, particularly given that money could be much better used elsewhere,” Senator Paterson told the Herald Sun.

“Given our gross national debt of $470 billion as of this month, my preference would be to use every dollar of the proceeds from selling Blue Poles to pay down debt.”

The painting’s purchase 43 years ago divided public opinion. Mr Whitlam had to sign off on the deal personally because the gallery’s director had bid above $1 million.

The current director of the National Gallery of Australia, Gerard Vaughan, has said many visitors came to see the painting because “they grew up hearing about it”. “There’s a certain notoriety because of the price paid – of course, that was highly controversial in the 1970s,” he said last month.

“All I can say is when it comes to government investments, it’s probably the best investment the government has ever made in Australia.” Mr Vaughan said he could say with “absolute certainty” that there was no way Blue Poles would ever be for sale.

Senator Paterson, who at 28 is the youngest current federal parliamentarian, said the next generation should not pay “even $1 more in interest payments” because the government wanted to keep one of the world’s most expensive pieces of art.

“If the government would prefer to spend the proceeds of the sale elsewhere in government, there are a lot of better uses of it than a single painting, including within the arts portfolio,” the senator said yesterday.

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