Monday, 26 August 2013

Had one the temerity to pose this question some 25 years ago it would have been greeted by the raising of a carefully acquired quizzical eyebrow, and  a disturbingly audible exhalation through the nostrils designed to  draw attention to  the frozen facial expression of incredulity reserved only for the questing of  a Philistine.

This is because Salek Minc offered to a large group of people in Perth their first glimmerings of understanding in the visual arts beyond Hans Heysen's tenderly rendered gum trees and Frederick McCubbin's unfortunate tramp with which their drawing rooms were almost uniformly adorned.

The annual Salek Minc lecture is delivered in his honour at UWA but, sadly, so little is made of this brilliant man that most of the attendees have no idea who he was.

Salek Minc was born a Jew, in the small Russian, now Polish city Seidlic during the upheavals and purges of 1905. Ultimately he was forced to flee through White Russia and the Ukraine where he acquired his fluency in the Polish, Russian and Yiddish languages.

He studied medicine in Italy, graduated in 1925. A promising hospital career was abruptly terminated by the advent of Mussolini. In the interval however his burgeoning love of art brought him into contact with many young painters among whom was Corrado Cagli who was to become one of the nation's most outstanding artists. Their friendship continued over the years and Salek Minc's unique collection contained a number of the best of Cagli's work outside Europe.

Whilst travelling in exile as a ship's doctor he became acquainted with the Australian way of life which appealed to his Mediterranean and freedom-loving temperament. So he settled here, developing his medical skills and his indulgence in art.

He became friend and patron to many Australian artists whose talents he recognised and fostered, even during their earliest days of endeavour.

Art was an absorbing passion; friends his most treasured possessions and conversation the instrument by which he soothed or stimulated others. His excitement and joy from a work of art was only exceeded by any opportunity to share and elucidate its qualities with others. We were the beneficiaries of that bounty.

This then was the uniquely gifted citizen of the world who lived amongst us.  He truly changed the lives of many, leaving them with a new mode of perception and appreciation of life and living. A good deal of his collection was offered to the University.

Is it not strange then that a University, in mounting an Annual Lecture in his name, should so casually relegate his relevance and record to a short insertion in the circulated program? This obligatory mini-obeisance is usually enveloped and suffocated by the more extensive information illuminating the attractions of the living, invited speaker, far exceeding those of the dead progenitor of the occasion of whom the speaker knows little or nothing.

Whether one admires or detests him, that arch interlocutor - Philip Adams - never fails to briefly explore the background of the named academic institution or benefactor whence emanates the authority and expertise of his visitor. Why cannot UWA do the same by introducing their visitor's lecture with a pithy, revealing prelude given by someone familiar with and respectful of the heritage entailed?

Several ‘named' lectures are given across the campus each year. Would it not be reasonable to advise the visiting speaker about whom or why they have been chosen to grace and perpetuate the name or the occasion? This would permit their sensibility and good taste to react appropriately whilst consolidating the history of the Institution.


UWA Forward