Comedian drops plan for a billboard of Gina Rinehart portrait in Times Square | Gina Rinehart

An Australian comedian has dropped his plan to broadcast Vincent Namatjira’s contentious portrait of Gina Rinehart to thousands of tourists and New Yorkers in Times Square.

Dan Ilic told the Guardian on Tuesday lunchtime that after exceeding his crowdfunding target of A$30,000, his stunt would go live in Times Square at 8pm on Friday night.

It was expected to attract millions of online viewers after the story of the mining magnate’s displeasure over the Namatjira portrait in the National Gallery of Australia went global.

Ilic said he planned to broadcast the event on his social media platforms Instagram, X (formerly Twitter) and his A Rational Fear site on Substack.

However, late afternoon on Tuesday, Namatjira’s Sydney agent, Alanna Irwin from Ames Yavuz gallery, told the Guardian the stunt would go ahead without the artist’s approval.

In a statement provided to the Guardian via Irwin Namatjira said: “I didn’t give my approval for Dan Ilic’s campaign to use my artwork and I’d rather it does not go ahead.”

Shortly after 8pm on Tuesday night, Ilic told the Guardian he had abandoned his Times Square stunt.

“I’ve come to understand that the gallery would rather it not go ahead so I’ve pulled the project,” he said in an email.

Namatjira himself is currently on Country in central Australia and unavailable for comment.

In his interview with the Guardian, Ilic said Namatjira thought the plan to beam the image of his artwork out in Times Square was amusing, but the artist himself was not involved.

Ilic did not respond when the Guardian pressed him over issues of consent from Namatjira to republish an image of his Rinehart portrait in Times Square.

More than $32,000 had been raised through Ilic’s Indiegogo campaign to pay for an electronic billboard in Times Square depicting the portrait of Australia’s richest woman painted in Namatjira’s typically unflattering style.

Ilic said all of the 700-plus donors to the campaign would be refunded.

The story about the inclusion of the Rinehart portrait in the National Gallery of Australia’s current Namatjira exhibition, called Australia in Colour, went viral after Rinehart and members of Swimming Queensland reportedly lobbied the NGA to have the portrait removed from the exhibition.

Rinehart’s company, Hancock Prospecting, has not responded to the Guardian’s request for comment.

A spokesperson for the NGA told the Guardian that the number of visitors to the Namatjira exhibition had risen considerably since the story broke, but declined to say by how much.

NGA director Nick Mitzevich said in a statement last week the museum “welcomes the public having a dialogue on our collection and displays”.

Professor Roger Benjamin, the University of Sydney’s chair of art history, wrote in The Conversation last week that none of the subjects in Namatjira’s NGA exhibition – from Queen Elizabeth II to Scott Morrison – were flattering, and that an Indigenous artist’s interpretation of a white woman who controls vast tracts of land in western and central Australia was probably never going to be a positive one.

However, Benjamin, speaking generally on other stunts by other comedians, told the Guardian on Tuesday that there were now more complex issues surrounding public shaming and the impact on a person’s mental health, and Australia’s relationship with misogyny and the urge to cut powerful people down to size, that needed to be considered.

This is not the first time Ilic has used crowdfunding to finance high-profile billboards overseas. He raised more than $60,000 in 2021 to erect a series of faux Australian tourism ads both here and in Scotland during the COP26 conference in Glasgow to protest the Morrison government’s position on climate change.

But while the 2021 stunt was political, Ilic said the planned Rinehart billboard in Times Square had not been a political comment on Hancock Prospecting’s business interests in the fossil fuel sector.

“There’s no politics, we’re just supporting great Australian art,” he said.

“I’m a big fan of Vincent’s work, he’s very funny and I think he’s one of Australia’s best artists. He should be celebrated.”

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