A RETURN to the 1970s?
Anything Goes focuses entirely on the art of the previous decade in Australia. Sixteen essays have been selected from the general art-critical field - magazines; catalogues and newspapers - to begin the documentation and re-evaluation of our recent art in a non-partisan and didactic form. The selection of essays attempts to cover all the major manifestations in art of those years - a virtually impossible task; the benefits of hindsight notwithstanding. What results is a selection which may cause some embarrassment to its authors - in cases where they have matured or changed their minds, which may stimulate reflection and recognition of the insight and candour which periodically blesses Australian art criticism, and which will at least contribute to the development of historical accuracy.
Although the 1970s in Australian art were comparatively remarkable for their coupling of the visual arts with the written word - although, in other words, the decade saw a boom in art education, writing and publishing - much of the art and criticism has receded into silence or invisibility. In some cases, older, more or less established or 'middle-generation' artists are marginalised in discussions of contemporary art by the very process to which they owe their initial success, what can be called the permanent revolution of novelty. Anything Goes is an attempt to remind ourselves, where necessary, of the art of the years from 1970 to 1980, to overcome today's "amnesia" which particularly greets the less entrenched and established, or more ephemeral, art of the Seventies.
The reluctance of conventional publishing houses to come to terms with contemporary Australian art (and to bask instead in the easy popularity of superstar artists, cliched Australian subjects and nostalgic histories) is as disappointing and unbelievable as the scarcity of relevant material (essays, even photographs) in libraries, educational institutions and state museums. What has resulted, of course, is the widespread neglect of the artists who were popular in the Seventies, the debilitating shortage of educational material on the art (compensated for, not surprisingly, by the abundant volumes about American and European art of the same years on students' bibliographies) and a depreciation of the profession of criticism and its transformation into mere passing comment. Seen in this light, Anything Goes is not only intended to be informative; it is also designed to stimulate changes in our attitudes toward, and treatment of, recent contemporary art, artists and critics. To adopt the language of some of the essays which follow, a language bristling with an enthusiasm for change, Anything Goes is an intervention into the state of affairs of Australian publishing, criticism, art education, information distribution and collecting. In this way, it is probably as idealistic as some of the art it addresses.
A most enjoyable function of such anthologies, and of Anything Goes in particular, is the elucidation and documentation of the exchange of ideas. This is one of criticism's chief pleasures, and the extent of the cross-referencing and overlapping of opinion in this anthology is outstanding. The alert reader might notice the subtexts throughout Anything Goes which are comparable in complexity to those of a good work of fiction. The writers here are not only discussing paintings, photography, sculpture, experimental media and so on. They are elaborating discursive positions with regard to other creative texts of their time. Certainly some essays here achieve this with more aplomb, more conviction or more influence than others, but even the minor essays in this anthology represent common attitudes of their period. It is regretful that certain important critics of the Seventies could not have been included - as is the case for particular artists - however the selection of essays has necessarily favoured a particular variety of critical writing, namely that which broadly addresses a major topic or debate within the art scene of the recent past, and not simply the art of one or two individuals. Also, many influential writers - it is revealing to notice in retrospect - were enabled to promote their ideas and criticisms of contemporary art with recourse to the art of other nations more than to that of Australia. When researching the area, therefore, the number of articles, catalogue introductions and other essays which self-consciously argued about significant tendencies in art with careful regard to local circumstances and artistic developments was comparatively small. .............................