Art Gallery of NSW 2013 Program – Beginning a Brand New Era

In February 2012 the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW) announced they had appointed Australian born internationally based Dr. Michael Brand as Director, following a world wide search to replace Edmund Capon, whose many years of service had been dynamic and distinctive. At the time NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell welcomed the appointment. “Michael will bring his formidable curatorial and management skills to bear on the gallery’s already impressive reputation for artistic excellence and acquisition,” Mr. O’Farrell said.

It is good that there was an extensive interim period between directors to allow people to get used to the idea Mr. Capon was no longer at the helm and to give Dr. Brand an opportunity to liaise with the governing board of trustees about their vision for the gallery as he brings his own innovative ideas to the table to formulate plans for its future. Dr. Brand was born in Australia and earned his BA (Honours) from the Australian National University and his MA and PhD in art history from Harvard University in the U.S.A. The Head of the Board of Trustees Mr. Frank Lowy announced that the Trustees had embarked on a thorough global search to recruit its new director. “That search began with extensive consultation with a broad spectrum of gallery stakeholders which helped identify the qualities an ideal candidate should possess,” he said. “I’m pleased to say that Michael exemplifies those qualities in every respect.”

Mawalan Marika, Australia circa 1908–26 Nov 1967, Djan'kawu creation story, from the series Djan'kawu story natural pigments on bark gift of Dr Stuart Scougall 1959 Collection AGNSW

Michael Brand assumed his role at the AGNSW mid-year, following his completion of a consultancy with the Aga Khan Museum, the only museum in North America entirely devoted to the arts of Islamic civilisations.

He has earned his formidable international reputation and currently serves on the Visiting Committee of the Harvard Art Museum and the International Advisory Board of the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. He is a past member of the Governing Board of the renowned Courtauld Institute of Art at London. In his odyssey through the world of art so far he has held some incredible positions internationally, including Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum at Los Angeles from 2005 – 2010.

It was good to offer such a successful Australian abroad an opportunity to come home and to bring his considerable and wide ranging experience and skills to bear on the future of art in this country.

This is certainly the beginning of a ‘brand’ new era for the AGNSW .

No doubt Dr. Brand’s voice will help enormously during an economic period when the arts are once again under threat of their funding being cut. This is not something that is just happening here in Australia but also internationally.

Superb Dragon Ew Hoi An, Viet Nam mid 15th century Porcelain moulded, with underglaze blue and white decoration

Recently esteemed Italian master conductor Riccardo Muti spoke out in an interview for the Huffington Post inn America sounding a gong that should resonate loudly around the arts world on how ‘Culture is Good for the Economy and the Soul’.

“For our governing leaders, culture is something less important, less necessary, above all in times of economic difficulties,” Muti said in an interview with The Associated Press at Rome’s Teatro dell ‘Opera, “… a people without culture is a people that loses its identity” and very often its way.

Like Italy in Australia we haven’t yet reached that point, but what Muti was reminding everyone is that the danger is always there and it pays for us all to remain vigilant in both lean and good times. We must always be mindful of how important the arts are. Together with design they are integral to our culture reflecting its very essence – who we are, our attitudes and philosophies our fashions and passions.

In a statement issued to the press recently Michael Brand said, “I’m delighted to announce the 2013 exhibition program, my first as director of the Art Gallery of NSW. It’s an exciting schedule, ranging from Old Master drawings and Chinese archaeology to the art of our own time, a period in which we can claim to be the national leader”.

Nasturtiums by Australian artist E Phillips Fox (1865-1915) purchased in memory of Margaret Olley 2011

Some of the shows like ArtExpress, the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes as well as the Anne Landa Award for video and new media arts are now presented annually.

The other exhibitions on offer have no doubt have been in the making long before Dr. Brand arrived. These days it can take anything from 1 – 5 years to successfully plan and mount an exhibition, dependent on its size and content so in truth it will be a year or two before his mark begins to show. It’s why such leaders often seek at least a ten year tenure from the board if they achieve such an appointment.

The Ferry by E Phillips Fox c1910-1911 Purchased 1949 Collection AGNSW

The AGNSW has a formidable and very rich and varied collection to call upon of over 29, 200 works gathered during its 130 year history.

A recent acquisition Nasturtiums by artist and art teacher E Phillips Fox (1865-1915) in memory of one of the twentieth centuries most loved Australian artists Margaret Olley would see her smiling.

She so loved these simple flowers and his work.

Fox was one of the late 19th century expats in Europe who became renowned for superb images, of which ‘The Ferry’ also in the collection is a favourite of many people who also consider it his piece de resistance. Originally exhibited in Paris and London, ‘The ferry’ also influenced a younger generation of Australian modernist artists when it was first exhibited in Sydney in 1913. No doubt Mr Brand, like his predecessor, knows it well.

Highlights of the 2013 program include the ‘Sydney Moderns’ from 6th July to 7th October and Renaissance to Goya: Prints and Drawings from Spain 31st August to 24th November.

Then there is wonderful variety of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander work in three exhibitions that will explore specific areas and regions through works on paper. Papunya Tula works on paper showcases very rare works in pencil and watercolour made before men began painting on boards and canvas.

Baay: Indigenous art from southeast Australia includes ‘Koori’ men’s work, which is very appealing and highly distinctive in its use of line whether drawn or carved. Tommy McRae (1836-1901) worked in pen and brown ink on buff paper to provide this vision of ‘Spearing the Kangaroo’ drawn c1880 – 1890. It has remarkably survived the passage of time, handed down in a family of a custom’s officer from Albury.

McRae did not begin drawing until late in life, when commercial ink, pens and sketchbooks were easily available. McRae’s sketchbook is in the National Museum of Australia at Canberra and his works depict aspects of Aboriginal life and in their day were very popular. He brilliantly captured in a simple but clearly defined drawing the impact of British colonialism and the incursion of Europeans and Chinese people who arrived her after 1788.

Then there are Yirrkala drawings of vibrant colour crayon on paper which have never before been seen in any great number.

Contemporary Projects will be an ongoing series of exhibitions by living artists and will feature works by Tony Albert 30th May – 30th June, Alex Kershaw 12th September to 10th November and Lucas Ihlein and Ian Milliss 28th November – 27th January 2014.

Love seems to be an important theme in Sydney at the moment. My own recent visit there to deliver a ‘Love Jewellery’ presentation for the InForum Group at the showroom of Maison Cartier was indeed timely. A walk around the town revealed that love seemed to be happening everywhere, including the new Ladurée teashop in the Westfield Centre and at David Jones, who have a ‘love giving’ theme for Christmas.

Now it seems all the love will continue to flow over into January with an exciting exhibition commencing on 31st January – 21st April entitled: We Used to Talk about Love. It is described as a ‘spatial and emotional journey through love’s language. This will be an exhibition of contemporary photomedia works by eleven contemporary artists, who will consider and explore ‘the varied terrain of love’s language – joy, elation, longing, loss, melancholia and memory’.

Featured artists are Polly Borland (USA/Aus.), Eliza Hutchison (Vic), Paul Knight (UK/Aus.), Angelica Mesta (France/Aus.), David Noonan (UK/Aus.), David Ossietzky (Vic), Darren Sylvester (Vic), Tim Silver (NSW), Glenn Slogged (Vic), Grant Stevens (QLD) and Justine Williams (NSW).

Bettina Rheims Martine 1989, gelating silver photograph from the series Modern Lovers 1990. Courtesy AGNSW

Photographic media will also take a forward front seat in another trio of exhibitions of works gleaned from the 4500 strong permanent collection of the gallery, which is changed three times a year. Next year on show will be ‘The fashion of Helmut Newton and Bettina Rheims’ from 9th February – 19th May, Bill Henson: cloud landscapes from 30th May – 22nd September and Joy before the object: from Man Ray to Catherine Rogers from 2nd October to 2nd February 2014.

The body, clothes, environment and voyeurism was what Helmut Newton was all about as is Bettina Rheims, who regularly portrays transgender issues. Catherine Rogers also depicts the confused sexuality of androgynous young men and women, a striking contemporary comment on society.

Bill Henson is currently one of Australia’s most formidable photographers with an international reputation and his exhibition features twelve photographs never shown together before gleaned from the Gallery’s collection. They were taken over a twenty-year period and concentrate on large-scale figure studies and ‘landscapes’.

There is another interesting exhibition from 22nd August to the 10th November. It’s a Silk Road Saga: Yu Hong’s Sarcophagus.

This interesting show will offer an opportunity for scholars, students and people generally to understand the nature of life along the famous Silk Road during the sixth century. The sarcophagus belonged to Yu Hong and his wife and in its white marble magnificence is the centrepiece along with some 20 other objects from either the same tomb or from other burials that have been excavated in China’s Shanxi province.

Francisco de Zurbarán Head of a monk 1635–55, black chalk and grey wash with traces of pen and ink, 27.7 x 19.6 cm. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The two main featured exhibitions for the year could not be more polar opposites, at least in terms of their content.

In order of their historicity Renaissance to Goya: Prints and Drawings from Spain carries on a trend started by QAGOMA at Brisbane with their fabulous exhibition of Spanish master works from the Prado in Madrid earlier this year. This show will focus on 130 exceptional works, which have been lent by the British Museum to Australia. It currently holds one of the finest collections of Spanish Drawings anywhere in the world.

The show covers a 200+ year historical period and showcase works produced by both 16th century Italian and Flemish artists working in Spain. Then there are those rendered during the 17th century, usually regarded as Spain’s ‘Golden Age’ with works by the likes of Murillo, Ribera, Zurbarán and the legendary Velázquez. It will culminate in the drawings of an Aragonese romantic painter and printmaker, who has acquired a reputation as the last of the ‘old’ masters and first of the modernists Francisco José de Goya (1746-1828).

Goya has gained a great following with his art that moved from being ‘jolly and lighthearted to being deeply pessimistic’ during the course of his life span that encompassed the rule of four monarchs. His cartoons for tapestry weavers frustrated those who had to interpret the complexity of h is compositions. He was particularly influenced by the play of light on objects as well as symbolism attached to the military struggle that Spain constantly engaged in with France. At the end of his long career and life Goya retired to France where he spent his final years in the glorious light of Bordeaux and soaking up the atmosphere at Paris

Grace Cossington Smith 'The curve of the Bridge' 1928–29 oil on cardboard Collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales

Sydney Moderns the second major show will encompass historically the twenty-year period of peace between World War I and II (1918 – 1938). This was a certainly a dynamic period for Australian art and its artists, some of whom were travelling internationally where they were busy taking on European impressions, while others were either treading the path towards abstraction or otherwise staying at home where they were kept busy heralding Australian nationalism.

Artists being showcased include Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo,Tempe Manning, Roy de Maistre, Roland Wakelin, Grace Cossington Smith, Margaret Preston, Gladys Reynell, Anne Dangar, Thea Proctor, Grace Crowley, Ralph Balson, Rah Fizelle, Frank and Margel Hinder, Margo and Gerald Lewers, Dorrit Black, Harold Cazneaux, Olive Cotton, Max Dupain and Eric Wilson.

There is not much more one can say about the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes that has not been said before, except to note that it is a competition that the wider community now respects and knows about. The ongoing success of its annual show and its various prizes is dependent in part on either how controversial or how appealing the entries and the winners are, which is a subject that becomes debated for the months surrounding it being on display. In 2013 that will be from the 23rd March to the 2nd June. These prizes are now high on the list of Australia’s oldest and most prestigious art awards.

Every culture on earth demonstrates its concerns by striving to achieve excellence in the arts, letters, manners, and scholarly, professional and personal pursuits. And, if it is to celebrate its achievements it must continue to provide opportunities for people of different ethnicity to come together to exchange views and opinions as well as develop ways of recording what is agreed and done. Art is a wonderful medium of human expression wherein this can take place.

In this regard the Australian people have a very large part to play in supporting Dr. Brand, who is the ninth director since the gallery was founded. Dr. Brand’s many international connections and relationships will no doubt in the years to come have an enormous impact on the sort of shows he will likely bring to, and mount at the gallery.

We all wish him well in his new post and I am sure the AGNSW and its members and its visitors look forward to exciting times ahead under both his direction and influence.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2013

Ref: Media Releases and Images courtesy Artists and Art Gallery of NSW.




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