In 1973 the Whitlam government bought American Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles: Number 11 1952 for the National Gallery of Australia for a then staggering A$1.3 million. It was the highest price ever paid for a modern painting. It may seem laughable now, but this was 1973 and the Whitlam government was under fire for the amount of tax payer dollars spent on a painting by a crazy, alcoholic American artist.

A very unpopular selection at the time, the purchase of Blue Poles became a rallying point for the Liberal opposition to attack the government for an outlandish purchase during a time of economic stress. The Whitlam governments attempts to borrow money from the Middle East during this period eventually led to the most controversial moment in Australia’s short history – the Whitlam dismissal in 1975.

Blue Poles undoubtedly holds an iconic place in Australian history. In hindsight, it has proved to be an insightful and invaluable investment with Blue Poles now being valued at up to $150 million. Nice one, Gough.

Advertisements