The self appointed arbiters of public taste are on notice after a recent decision by the High Court of Australia.
Sydney Morning Herald restaurant critic, Matthew Evans, bagged the up market Sydney restaurant Coco Roco five years ago saying they served unpalatable food. Three months later the restaurant went belly up. The owners sued saying the review played a crucial role in the Coco Roco demise. The restaurant lost, appealed to the High Court who decided that they indeed had been defamed. And have sent the case back to the lower court so the SMH could put up a defense and court can decide on damages to be awarded.
The High Court’s Justice Margaret Beazley said ‘The food served in any restaurant is its essential business. If the food is “unpalatable” the restaurant fails on the very matter that is the essence of its existence...because of that [it] is defamatory. In my opinion, no reasonable jury properly directed could reach any other verdict.’
The quality of the food served by the restaurant seems to have very little influence on the decision. That a person said it was unpalatable in a public place is the crime. That the subject of the litigation is ephemeral and its appreciation subjective is of little regard to the good judge.
Currently, art shares this lack of rigour and remains a subjective discipline where a piece of work is an artwork if its maker says it is so. Others, more often than not with an alternative agenda, then determine its status. Those who would keep the bastards honest have had the ribbon pulled from their typewriter by this decision.
Does this mean the future of the public discussion of art will be reduced to Press Releases?