• News
  • Dec 11, 2023

Australian Gallery Cuts Ties with Longtime Artist After Performance References Israel and Palestine

Portrait of MIKE PARR.

On December 3, after staging a performance that referred to the Israel-Hamas war, the provocative Australian artist Mike Parr was dropped by Melbourne gallerist Anna Schwartz, his exclusive representative since 1986. According to a report in The Guardian, Schwartz terminated their nearly four-decade-long partnership in a two-sentence email. Her gallery’s homepage carries the equally terse statement: “Anna Schwartz Gallery no longer represents Mike Parr.”

Parr’s performance Going Home (2023) took place on Saturday, December 2, as a part of his three-part exhibition “Sunset Claws” at Anna Schwartz Gallery. The event was documented by Melbourne-based photographer Zan Wimberley and posted to social media, where Parr, 78, can be seen beginning the performance by writing, “The universal is a lie. There is only the truth of our action in time and place” onto a long white wall with black paint. As the performance went on, his additions became increasingly controversial. 

Parr continuously layered the words “Israel” and “Palestine” over “apartheid,” “Nazi,” and “ethnic cleansing,” as well as certain media-frenzied claims in the wake of October 7, such as “Hamas raped women and cut off the heads of babies.” However, because Parr had his eyes shut, the inscriptions were largely illegible, thus it is difficult to verify what exactly was written. Adding to the ambiguity, after the wall was covered with words and phrases, Parr painted over them in red with his bare hands. By the end of the four-and-a-half-hour performance, he was covered in paint and crying.

In an interview with ABC’s Radio National, Schwartz noted that she would not take down the video of Parr’s performance from her gallery website so as to not “mediate the exhibition.” But as a Jewish woman whose family members perished in the Holocaust, the gallerist explained that Parr was well aware how seeing the words “Nazi” and “Israel” paired together would affect her. “I can’t work with an artist who’s prepared to hurt me to that degree and to insult my culture and my lived experience, the generations that come before me, who have suffered and been annihilated,” she told The Guardian.

A week prior to the performance, the artist reportedly had argued with Morry Schwartz, the son of Holocaust survivors, over their differing outlooks on Israel’s military campaign. When Parr stated “the Israelis had turned the Gaza Strip into another Warsaw ghetto,” the artist said Morry “just blew up.” He later defended his artwork: “Anna has seen those words ‘Nazi’ and ‘Israel’ and authored her own response, that was not my intention.”

Parr also encouraged the public to judge the performance for themselves by visiting the installation. His rallying cry has been an apparent success, as Schwartz quipped: “I think we had more people in the gallery than we’ve ever had. And most of those people had never been to my gallery before and didn’t even know who Mike Parr was.” The exhibition remains on view until December 16.

Anna Lentchner is assistant editor at ArtAsiaPacific.

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