'One of the best works of the year'? Candles of media tycoons Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch burn in Jeremy Deller's Australian installation

Critic Jerry Saltz heaps praise on the Turner Prize-winning artist's 12-hour meditation on unchecked power and influence

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Jeremy Deller, Father and Son (2021). Courtesy the artist and The Modern Institute, Glasgow. Photograph: Christian Capurro

Jeremy Deller, Father and Son (2021). Courtesy the artist and The Modern Institute, Glasgow. Photograph: Christian Capurro

A deconsecrated church in the inner Melbourne suburb of Collingwood was the setting for the British artist Jeremy Deller’s latest art installation and his first Australian commission.

Father and Son, which was presented on 6 November, was described as a "an invitation to a public vigil" and promoted with the Bible verse “For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” – John 5:19. Remarkably Father and Son almost never happened due to various acts of God including the world’s longest Covid-19 lockdown and a 5.9 magnitude earthquake that left organisers worried Deller’s sculpture had pre-emptively toppled.

Fortunately not, and on an unseasonably humid Saturday, over 1,300 of Melbourne’s art faithful congregated at Saint Saviours Church of Exiles to take part in Deller’s 12-hour public vigil.

Inside, visitors were confronted by life-size wax effigies of the media tycoons Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, set alight in a slow-burn meditation on unchecked power and influence.

Jeremy Deller, Father and Son (2021). Courtesy the artist and The Modern Institute, Glasgow. Photograph: Christian Capurro

As images of Father and Son circulated on social media, conversations inside the church, and online, invariably turned to the divisiveness the media moguls have sown through their global media empire, of which Rupert Murdoch is executive chairman and Lachlan heir apparent.

On Instagram, the American art critic Jerry Saltz heaped praise on Father and Son for highlighting the “worthless inheritance and the profits of a family who gained the whole world but lost its soul”, adding: “Surely one of the best works of the year”.

As with his 2004 Turner-prize winning The Battle of Orgreave (2001), a re-enactment of a clash between police and miners at the height of the UK miners’ strike in 1984, once again Deller has tapped public sentiment and exorcised one of the intangible qualities we associate with great art—conversation.

Jeremy Deller, Father and Son (2021). Courtesy the artist and The Modern Institute, Glasgow. Photograph: Christian Capurro

Yet in his only public statement about the work, Deller reserved judgement, stating that churches are “interchangeable spaces”, adding “in which the boundary between the sacred and profane is blurred”.

Shortly after 10 pm the face of Lachlan’s effigy fell to the floor and landed at Rupert’s feet and the assembled crowd broke into applause. In any other context their collective response might have been perceived as profane, but not at a vigil to the Murdochs and their legacy.

Jeremy Deller: Father and Son was presented by the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.

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