The collections held by public art galleries such as Newcastle’s come mainly from private, philanthropic individuals supported by corporate benefactors, gallery foundations and societies, artists through the cultural gifts programs and the galleries themselves through their government-funded budgets.
The Newcastle Art Gallery’s collection of more than 6000 works is regarded as one of the most significant in regional Australia. It has been assessed as the city’s single most valuable asset and it continues to grow in size and value.
It spans the period from the earliest convict colony to the present, taking us on a visual journey through our history and culture and it continues to stay relevant through the acquisition of contemporary works and historical pieces of significance.
Currently on exhibition at the gallery is a selection of over 90 works acquired over the three years from 2013-2015.
In a bold and successful move the curators have opted for a salon hang covering the whole rear wall where paintings, drawings, photographs and prints butt against each other with an initially overwhelming impact that soon dissipates on engagement with the individual works.
The inclusion of many artists with strong local connections is crucial to giving the collection and the gallery its unique identity while the inclusion of nationally renowned artists positions the collection and the city in a wider social and cultural context.
The paintings of Andy Devine, Lezlie Tilley, Peter Gardiner, Lucas Grogan and James Drinkwater and the drawings and prints of Claire Martin, David Middlebrook and Vera Zulumovski all hang comfortably among those of William Dobell, Lloyd Rees, Gloria Petyarre, Patricia Piccinini, Tony Tuckson and Albert Namatjira.
A growing number of video works are in the collection and Dean Beletich’s photographic portraits of influential figures in the Newcastle art scene over the past decade give an added sense of local identity to the whole show.
Ceramic pieces from nationally celebrated artists Gwyn Hanssen Pigott and Marea Gazzard, and new works from Japanese potters position the works in a much broader setting. The gallery’s collection of Japanese and Australian ceramics is regarded as the finest and most significant in the country and, as such, surely it deserves a permanent exhibition space of its own.
The great pity is that we are only able to see such a small part of the collection at any one time due to the severe spatial restraints of the building.
The collection belongs to the community who deserve the opportunity to engage with it on a regular basis but in order for this to happen the gallery needs more space.
It is well documented that astute investment in the cultural sector produces real economic stimulation and progressive regional centres such as Bendigo, Tweed, Maitland and Albury continue to reap the economic and social benefits from significant investment in their galleries.
While Sydney’s Art Gallery of NSW seeks $450million for ‘extensions’ the state’s second biggest city continues to be denied urgently needed funding and must operate in premises totally inadequate for contemporary gallery needs and public expectations.
Also at Newcastle Art Gallery is Holding, an international exhibition from 25 contemporary fibre artists assembled by Anne Kempton, the owner of Timeless Textiles gallery. Artists from Austria, Canada, the Netherlands, Hungary and the USA combine with Australian artists including Meredith Woolnough and Brett Alexander to examine notions of containment and stretch the boundaries of their fields through sculptural and installation pieces, weavings and hangings.
Until February 5.
Avalanche of works
Gallery 139 presents drawings and paintings from two graduates of the old Fine Art course at Newcastle University, Kristian Glynn and Colleen Hoad who headed to Melbourne 10 years ago and have returned to Newcastle with a collaborative exhibition Sodamolly. This is a high-energy, irreverent post-punk, anarchic romp mixed with a healthy dose of cynicism and self-deprecating humour. Over many hundred works a dialogue has been created between the artists and, though many of the subtleties remain private, the commonality of the sentiments expressed and the boldness of their technique ensures immediate connection with the audience. Until December 4.