John Neylon is an award-winning art critic and the author of several books on South Australian artists including Hans Heysen: Into The Light (2004), Aldo Iacobelli: I love painting (2006), and Robert Hannaford: Natural Eye (2007).
AGSA's 2020 vision
The release of the Art Gallery of South Australia’s 2020 exhibitions program is an opportunity for director Rhana Devenport to reflect on the journey, one year into the job.
This is borne out by the balance of the 2020 exhibitions program with the Leigh Robb-curated 2020 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art : Monster Theatres, marking 30 years of extraordinary longevity, supported in contemporary terms by Tarnanthi 2020, Phenomena: Art as experience and performance-based Seeing Through Darkness (an interpretation of the gallery’s holdings of George Rouault), and balanced by exhibitions drawing on the gallery’s historical collections, including a spotlight on Japanese warrior culture (Samurai), monstrosity as subject in European printmaking (The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters), a reimagined Morris & Co. display – all bookended by two ‘Adelaide moderns’ shows, Adelaide Cool: The abstract art of David and John Dallwitz and Dusan and Voitre Marek: Surrealists at sea.
In the meantime, the collection, and the staff, continue in Devenport’s estimation to be “worked very hard”. Works tour or are on constant rotation. Extensive rehangs, such as the Australian Collection Elder Wing make heavy demands on resources. But these things are necessary, Devenport believes, if people are to keep coming to the gallery and having their perceptions of the collections, and art, refreshed.
The porous delineations that have become a feature of collection display, along with a long-standing tradition of integrating decorative arts and design with the other collections give the gallery an advantage in this process. Given Devenport’s interest and background in performance programming at Queensland Art Gallery, expect to see dance, choral and other performance projects, along the lines of Sonic Blossom, interwoven with regular exhibitions and collection hangs. From her perspective, it’s allabout expanding the parameters of art.
The flip side to all this: the gallery’s small footprint (which means that only 1.5 per cent of the collection gets on the floor at any time), a chronic lack of storage and very limited facilities (particularly the one café, no restaurant, one bookshop and small after-hours events areas) remain high on the agenda. Storage may soon be addressed under the government’s Arts Plan provisions for all North Terrace institutions.
The quid pro quo lever is being pulled, which, from an outsider’s perspective, looks something along the lines of, ‘We (the gallery) build the assets (the collection is one of the state’s most valuable assets) and our programs give interstate/overseas visitors the incentive to come to South Australia (cue dollar multiplier effect). In return, you (the government) ensure the gallery has the physical capacity to adequately display the breadth and depth of its collections but also mount ticketed exhibitions and conduct other income-generating activities (cue coffees, merchandise, events etc.).’
Devenport believes that “great creativity comes out of restrictive resources” but also subscribes to the idea that if art museums aren’t thinking about expansion then museum directors aren’t doing their job. Devenport is clearly doing hers but, right now, the crystal ball that reveals how (and where) this let’s-walk together process will transpire is a little cloudy.