When the art critic Robert Nelson of The Age reviewed a one-day art project in Melbourne this weekend, he noted that audiences were looking in “puzzle” at an installation by a British conceptual artist.
“You could sense that viewers were searching within themselves for an explanation,” Nelson wrote in his review of Jeremy Deller’s work, Father and Son, which featured life-sized gray candles in the shape of a seated old man and a younger man slowly to a puddle during the day.
But it was the art critic himself who was puzzled. Nelson wrote several hundred words about the significance of the Turner award-winning artist’s work without realizing that the effigies of Rupert and Lachlan’s father and son were Murdoch.
Sure, we’ve all made mistakes, but seldom are they as public as those published on Sunday in the Age in print and online. Remarkably, no one behind the scenes wondered why the writer hadn’t mentioned the Murdochs in his piece, even though the resemblance was evident in the multiple photos published.
No one seems to have noticed other news reports about the exhibit, including Guardian Australia’s melting moguls: Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch’s life-size candles burn at the Melbourne installation, on Saturday.
A spokesman for Nine, publisher of the Age, declined to comment.
To his credit, Nelson wrote a sort of mea culpa on Tuesday: “Sometimes the eyes aren’t enough…I just didn’t realize the two obsolete ones were the Murdochs.”
In the “spooky installation in a desecrated church in Collingwood,” Nelson saw in Sunday’s review the Father and Son of the Bible — not the father and son of the Murdoch media empire.
“Everything about the installation at St Saviour’s Church of Exiles, Collingwood, was ecclesiastical — right down to the quote from the Gospel of John where Jesus declares his reverence to his Heavenly Father,” Nelson wrote Tuesday.
“But I didn’t realize that the figures represented Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, the media princes whose various actions don’t automatically strike you as theologically motivated.
“It definitely puts a different spin on the work; and if you were really focused on the details of the Murdoch mannequins being burned, the concept would be close to being a farce.
Nelson had an “out” but admirably chose not to take it. Some readers thought his original review was a “conscious decision” to suppress the Murdoch name.
“A witty Jane Scott, director of Horsham Art Gallery, was kind enough to write, ‘Brilliant review… without mentioning the unmentionable,'” Nelson said.
“I would like to bask in the glow of this subtle play; but in all sincerity I just didn’t realize the two obsolete ones were the Murdochs.’
He also admitted that there were clues as he walked through the art gallery that he chose to ignore because he believes in “trusting my eyes.”
“My ears heard someone talking about ‘Lachlan,’ but the whisper didn’t really penetrate my critical visual armor,” he said. “If I suppressed the connection, it was all in my unconscious. It would have been nice to possess the virtue of resisting more Murdoch progeny; but the truth is that I did not listen to my ears.”
But ultimately Nelson transcends what he calls the “embarrassment” and argues that the fact that he missed context is negligible.
“The original interpretation along the scriptural lines – which the artist himself suggested – remains sound,” he wrote on Tuesday. “The extra fact may add an extra layer of interpretation, but that doesn’t make it worth it required interpretation layer.”
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