ZKM | Museum of Contemporary Art, 09|17|2011 – 02|05|2012
Richard Bell
* 1953 in Charleville, Queensland (AU), into the Kamilaroi tribe, lives and works in Brisbane (AU)

Scientia E Metaphysica (Bell’s Theorem), 2003

The art of Australian artist and political activist Richard Bell is a response to crucial issues in Australian social history and politics, such as discrimination and racism, as well as to the functioning of the art system and market.
In his opposition to the usurpation of Aboriginal imagery and its commercial use in advertising campaigns, tourism promotion, etc. Bell appropriates styles and forms of Western Modernism, its painterly expression and iconography. The colorful, gridded patterns of Scientia E Metaphysica (Bell’s Theorem) are reminiscent both of Pop art and the styles evolved by Indigenous artists. They are inscribed with a text in the spirit of conceptualism that underscores a political message: “Aboriginal art – it’s a white thing.” Black and white dripping and fields of the same colors on both sides of the painting bring into a concise visual formula the problems running through the sociopolitical history of black and white relations in Australia. The red “abstract” triangle refers to the existing “triangle of discomfort” from the critical text “Bell’s Theorem”[1] expressing the extent of exploitation of Aboriginal artists at the hands of unscrupulous dealers and middlemen.
The painting’s statement is directed against the commodification of Aboriginal art and against the control of Aboriginal culture by the non-Aboriginal Western art market. Bell’s adamant concern is with the struggle against the marketing strategy of the industry that lobbies for Aboriginal art by selling typical “Aboriginal spirituality” and ghettoizing Aboriginal artists as “noble savages.” (DM)

[1] Richard Bell, “Bell’s Theorem: ABORIGINAL ART – It’s a White Thing!,” available online at: www.kooriweb.org/bell/theorum.html, November 2002, accessed 07/15/2011.


Scientia E Metaphysica (Bell’s Theorem)
, 2003