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Australia's richest woman seeks removal of her portrait from exhibition

Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart reportedly wants a portrait of her removed from an exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia. (wantja Arts / Vincent Namatjira / Copyright Agency / Getty Images via CNN Newsource) Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart reportedly wants a portrait of her removed from an exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia. (wantja Arts / Vincent Namatjira / Copyright Agency / Getty Images via CNN Newsource)
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Art is subjective. And while many artists long to share their work with the world, there’s no guarantee that the audience will understand it, or even like it.

That certainly seems to be the case with a painting by indigenous artist Vincent Namatjira, which includes a portrait of Australia’s richest person, mining magnate Gina Rinehart.

Rinehart has reportedly called for the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) to remove her portrait, one of 21 individual works that make up a single piece in Namatjira’s exhibition “Australia in Colour,” from display.

The exhibition has been running at the gallery in the Australian capital, Canberra, since March.

The painting of Rinehart is one of 21 portraits by artist Vincent Namatjira that feature in his exhibition 'Australia in Colour.' (Vincent Namatjira via CNN Newsource)

Other subjects in the piece include the late Queen Elizabeth II, American musician Jimi Hendrix, Australian Aboriginal rights activist Vincent Lingiari and the former Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison.

Australian media has reported that Rinehart approached the NGA’s director and chair to request the painting’s removal.

The NGA said in a statement to CNN Thursday that it “welcomes the public having a dialogue on our collection and displays.”

“Since 1973, when the National Gallery acquired Jackson Pollocks’ Blue Poles, there has been a dynamic discussion on the artistic merits of works in the national collection, and/or on display at the Gallery,” the NGA statement continued. “We present works of art to the Australian public to inspire people to explore, experience and learn about art.”

Namatjira said in a statement that he paints “people who are wealthy, powerful, or significant – people who have had an influence on this country, and on me personally, whether directly or indirectly, whether for good or for bad.”

“I paint the world as I see it,” he said. “People don’t have to like my paintings, but I hope they take the time to look and think, ‘why has this Aboriginal bloke painted these powerful people? What is he trying to say?’”

“Some people might not like it, other people might find it funny but I hope people look beneath the surface and see the serious side too,” Namatjira added.

Rinehart is the executive chairman of Hancock Prospecting, a privately owned mining company that was founded by her father, Lang Hancock.

CNN has reached out to Hancock Prospecting for comment but did not receive a response.

Rinehart has an estimated net worth of US$30.2 billion, according to Forbes. She “remained unshakable” at the top of Forbes’ Australia’s 50 Richest list for 2024, the outlet reported in February.

Australia’s National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) has spoken out to support Namatjira, CNN’s affiliate 9News has reported.

“While Rinehart has the right to express her opinions about the work, she does not have the authority to pressure the gallery into withdrawing the painting simply because she dislikes it,” NAVA’s executive director Penelope Benton said, according to 9News.

NAVA offered its “unwavering support” to National Gallery of Australia, 9News reported, stating that it was concerned that Rinehart’s demand to remove the portrait “sets a dangerous precedent for censorship and the stifling of creative expression.”

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