I think we would all agree that it is not hard to find wonderful things to say about Dick, it is just finding the right wonderful things to say. There are things we wished we had said to him but never got a chance.
Having talked with other artists and friends over the last few days we all seemed to be saying the same things. So I want to say on behalf of all the artists he supported, all the writers and poets, the people with vision he embraced, and the collectors and lovers of art he nurtured, THANK YOU DICK. Thank you for choosing us and helping us see so much that is good in the place we live.
Thank you for the courage and perseverance you showed, along with Carol and now Emma and Jack, when you established the Bett Gallery 25 years ago, and making it one of Australia’s best commercial galleries.
Thanks for proving to us that the commercial sector was more than viable in Tasmania, that it could even be vital and ground breaking. You helped so many of us realise our dream of living and working in the place we love. At the same time you helped us forge successful careers interstate and beyond.
Thank you for your part in constructing the window that allowed the nation to see Tasmania as a special place, and in making it understand that that Tasmania’s contemporary art was as good as anywhere else. Dick’s enthusiasm was infectious and it never wavered. We remember him packing the van all those times and driving to Dank Street in Sydney, or to Flinders Lane and all those Melbourne Art Fairs, or even taking work as far away as Washington.
Dick deserves recognition for his contribution towards making Tasmania the cultural destination it is today. All of us here know and we thank Dick.
These are all significant, big picture achievements because Dick always saw the big picture. The art world can be a petty place but Dick was never petty. Even when he was faced with mediocrity or reluctant institutions or government bodies he never lost heart. I remember after one set back he said “Bugger it we will do it ourselves”.
This shows his determination but he was never a tyrant- he was always and only ever inclusive. When I told him about a new commercial gallery opening in Hobart he said, “Oh good, the more there are the better it is.” He always seemed focused on a higher agenda.
But to the artists he was our friend, our mate- always pleased to see you, to talk. Once he chose to represent you he trusted you
• To put on the best show
• To work hard
• To challenge yourself
• To take risks.
Dick would never shy away from showing challenging work, and if we got another gallery interstate he celebrated with you because he was happy for you.
He knew the importance of building audiences for your work. He told me once that that was gave him his creative buzz.
He has left such a legacy in this area. Look at his pioneering work in bringing the best of Australia’s best indigenous art to Tasmanian audiences and collectors- or his development of so many collecting groups that have turned curious novices into lifetime collectors. Dick Bett was surely one this countries great innovators in collection building- and I ask you “Who else could have done it”?
But for the artists I suppose what we loved as much as anything about Dick was his optimism. We have probably all gone to see him when we were feeling deflated only to come away an hour later pumped up, ready for the battle again. Dick gave us confidence; he seemed to know things would be all right.
And when you had hung your exhibition he clap those big hands together and say “Great. You’ve got your show”
So I want you to indulge me for a minute as I imagine Dick standing at the door of his Retrospective, dressed in his ‘papal purple’ shirt, shaking hands with everyone as they come through the door.
His list of works would read
• First Director of Chameleon Contemporary Art Space
• 25 years of the Bett Gallery, month after month exhibitions of the best Australian contemporary art
• A list of all the artists he supported
• The young talent he fostered
• The Derwent collections, The Esk and Tamar collections
• The Big rivers collection, the Maatsuyker and Island collections
• South of no north, Poets and painters, Future perfect
And we would say to Dick, “its too large Dick we can’t fit it all in”. But he would say “No we can lean a few against the wall’.
And then we would all clap our hands and say” There you are Dick. You’ve got your show, and it was, is and will continue to be nothing less than a triumph, a total sell out”
Thanks Dick, we loved you; you were one of a kind.
2 December 2011