Richard Bell (artist)

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Richard Bell
Born1953 (age 69–70)
Known forPainting, contemporary Indigenous Australian art
AwardsNational Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award

Richard Bell (born 1953) is an Aboriginal Australian artist and political activist. He is one of the founders of proppaNOW, a Brisbane-based Aboriginal art collective.

Early life[edit]

Born in 1953[1] in Charleville, Queensland,[2] Bell is a Kamilaroi man.[3]

He engaged in political activism in Redfern, Sydney, in the 1970s, in causes such as Aboriginal self-determination. His art continues to reflect this.[1]

Themes and media[edit]

Bell works in many media: paintings, video art, installations, text art and performance art. His subjects are largely based on various Indigenous rights issues: the effect of colonialism on Aboriginal people in Australia, which has rendered their history invisible; identity; and the complex issues surrounding the production of Aboriginal art.[1]


In 2003, Bell co-founded the Indigenous art collective proppaNOW, with Jennifer Herd, Vernon Ah Kee, Fiona Foley and others.[4][3] In the same year, his work came to the attention of the wider public for Scientia E Metaphysica (Bell's Theorem).

In 2006, the Queensland art critic Rex Butler profiled his work for Australian Art Collector magazine.[5]

Bell caused controversy in April 2011 after revealing that he had selected the winner of the prestigious Sir John Sulman Prize through the toss of a coin.[6]

In 2011 Bell was interviewed in a digital story and oral history for the State Library of Queensland's James C Sourris AM Collection.[7] In the interview Bell talks to art historian Rex Butler about the development of his artistic practice, about winning the NATSIAA award, and the artist group proppaNOW.[8]

In March 2012, Bell won a court case against a person who had issued a take-down notice in 2011, for "unjustifiable threats of copyright infringement", and was awarded A$147,000 in damages, setting "an important precedent".[9]

In 2013 he presented the eight-episode TV series Colour Theory on National Indigenous Television.[10]

His self-portrait was a finalist of the 2015 Archibald Prize.[2] Bell created a new series of paintings and an installation for display at documenta 15, a major exhibition in Germany, in 2022.[1]

Significant works[edit]

Bell's Theorem (2003)[edit]

Bell came to the attention of the wider community after his 240×540 cm painting Scientia E Metaphysica (Bell's Theorem) won the 2003 Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award (NATSIAA). It prominently featured the text "Aboriginal art. It's a white thing". In his manifesto accompanying the work, Bell pointed out inequities that had existed in the Aboriginal art industry for a long time.[4][1][11]

Pay the Rent (2013)[edit]

Bell's work Pay the Rent, aka Embassy,[12][13] a replica of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, was first displayed in Melbourne in 2013. He says that the work "represents a number calculating how much money the Australian Government owes Aboriginal people — and that's just for the rent of the place". The interior of the tent functions as a display space, in which videos and other archival materials are shown, and for hosting public talks and performances, and informal conversations. Pay the Rent has since been erected at Performa 15 in New York City and at the 2019 Venice Biennale in 2019. In mid-2022, the work was installed on Friedrichsplatz, in front of Fridericianum, a museum in Kassel, Germany, as part of the international quinquennial exhibition documenta.[1][13]

Pay the Rent / Embassy was displayed in Adelaide on the forecourt of the Art Gallery of South Australia, as part of Tarnanthi, on 22–23 October 2022. It was accompanied by film screenings and talks, as part of the Adelaide Film Festival's new visual arts programme.[14]

In 2023 the installation will appear at London's Tate Gallery.[1]




Bell's work has been included in many significant group exhibitions, including:


Solo exhibitions include:

  • 2021: first major solo exhibition, at Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art Australia[1]
  • June 2022: first major European solo show at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, for which Bell wrote a follow-up to his 2002 Theorem, titled "Contemporary art. It's a white thing"[1]
  • 2022: exhibition and commissioned work for the Castello di Rivoli in Turin, Italy, a replica of the shack he grew up in near Charleville, which was demolished local authorities in 1967[1]


Bell's Archibald Prize entry, Me, is in the University of Queensland's art museum. Other works are held in many collections, including:[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Higgins, Jo (1 July 2022). "Aboriginal artist Richard Bell brings replica tent embassy to Germany's Documenta, ahead of 2023 Tate London installation". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 9 July 2022.
  2. ^ a b c "Archibald Prize Archibald 2015 work: ME by Richard Bell". Art Gallery of NSW. Retrieved 9 July 2022.
  3. ^ a b Bell, Richard (14 June 2014). "The death of Queensland artist Gordon Bennett is a huge blow to the Australian contemporary art world" (Biographical note). The Guardian. Retrieved 15 June 2014.
  4. ^ a b Neale, Margo (March 2010). "Learning to be proppa : Aboriginal artists collective ProppaNOW". Artlink Magazine. Retrieved 9 July 2022.
  5. ^ a b Butler, Rex (October–December 2006). "Richard Bell: Psychoanalysis - Australian Art Collector". Australian Art Collector (38). Archived from the original on 15 January 2011. Retrieved 9 July 2022.
  6. ^ "The hand of fate: how this painting won $20,000 on the toss of a coin", The Age, 24 April 2011
  7. ^ "James C Sourris AM Collection". State Library of Queensland.
  8. ^ "Richard Bell digital story, educational interview and oral history". State Library of Queensland. Retrieved 18 May 2022.
  9. ^ "Well-known Australian artist receives damages award for unjustifiable threats of copyright infringement", Mallesons Stephen Jaques, 23 March 2012
  10. ^ Colour Theory, SBS International Archived 1 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ "Scientia E Metaphysica (Bell's Theorem)". Milani Gallery. Archived from the original on 16 January 2021. Retrieved 9 July 2022.
  12. ^ "AFF x AGSA: Embassy". Adelaide Film Festival. 20 July 2022. Retrieved 21 July 2022.
  13. ^ a b Smith, Terry (11 July 2022). "DOCUMENTA 15, 2022: Collectivism and Controversy". Artlink Magazine. Retrieved 21 July 2022.
  14. ^ "AFF22 Visual Arts Program". Adelaide Film Festival. 21 July 2022. Retrieved 21 July 2022.

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