Brett Whiteley ‘gift’ may have cost council $350,000

NEWCASTLE City Council says the Brett Whiteley sculpture accepted as a “gift” and recently erected outside Newcastle Art Gallery may have cost the council $350,000.

In a statement after a confidential extraordinary meeting last night the council announced it was suspending all transactions with the Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation – a fund-raising body attached to the gallery.

The Brett Whiteley sculpture Black Totem II being installed out the front of the gallery in October 2013. Picture Darren Pateman

Council general manager Ken Gouldthorp said the council had concerns about “compliance with Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission Regulation 2013, taxation legislation, the Commonwealth Government’s Cultural Gift Program and the Foundation’s trust deed”.

Responding to the announcement, the foundation’s chairman Robert Henderson said the organisation would co-operate with any investigation.

Mr Henderson said the foundation would notify Wendy Whiteley and the Brett Whiteley foundation of the council’s concerns.

“The foundation believes it has acted and continues to act in the best interests of the gallery and the arts for the benefit of the city,’’ Mr Henderson said.

“All board members are volunteers.

“The foundation is confident that the council’s concerns in relation to this matter will be addressed in full.’’

Last night’s unheralded announcement is virtually the first statement the council has made since the standing down of the gallery’s director Ron Ramsey and the council’s future city director, Judy Jaeger.

In its statement last night, the council said it had resolved to implement recommendations by consultants Pricewaterhouse Coopers Legal to “notify and disclose its concerns to the appropriate agencies”.

General manager Ken Gouldthorp said the transaction surrounding the installation of the Whiteley Black Totem II sculpture at the Newcastle Art Gallery was a key component of an investigation into the art gallery’s activities.

“At the launch of the sculpture the director of the art gallery, Mr Ron Ramsey, publicly announced that the sculpture was a gift,’’ Mr Gouldthorp said.

“Council’s concern relates to what appears to be $350,000 payment for the sculpture and failure to disclose this payment on documents lodged with relevant agencies.

“I also met with the directors of the Art Gallery Foundation prior to the meeting. The foundation has not responded to previous requests for information about the transaction requested by council and the independent investigator.”

Lord mayor Jeff McCloy said “the matter had potential serious tax and other implications and liability for both the foundation and council”.

Mr Gouldthorp said the council was seeking “the co-operation of the foundation to address this matter and mitigate the possibility of the de-registration of the foundation and council’s tax deductible gift recipient status”.

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