Illumination: The Art of Philip Wolfhagen Wolfhagen — Propositions
Newcastle Art Gallery, to August 11
Dominik Mersch Gallery, Sydney, to August 3
IT was a bitter irony for Newcastle Art Gallery that its retrospective of the paintings of Philip Wolfhagen should open the day after the news the NSW government would not provide matching funding for an ambitious expansion of the building — a refusal that means the gallery apparently also will lose funds conditionally approved by the federal government and be unable to proceed with the proposed extensions. A further irony is that the Art Gallery of NSW has been given a much larger amount than Newcastle requested simply to fund the development phase of its plans for an immense expansion that has yet to be justified by any strategic view of the roles and distinct missions of public museums and galleries in Sydney.
But this is hardly surprising, since most of the people who run arts policy in our country seem to have fallen in line with the twin mantras that bigger is better and contemporary is cool. And the NSW government has further demonstrated its own social and urbanistic vision in the approval of the Barangaroo casino.
It is easier to justify the expansion of Newcastle, which does not have enough space to show its collection and mount an exhibition of any scale at the same time; in fact the whole permanent collection has had to be taken down to accommodate the Wolfhagen show. And Newcastle is one of the few substantial regional galleries in NSW; it would be a logical place to begin a long-term process of developing these smaller galleries into a significant network across the state.
Victoria, as I’ve said recently, already has an outstanding system of regional galleries, not only showing loan exhibitions from elsewhere but also conceiving, researching and mounting their own, which in turn can tour from one gallery to the other so that the network becomes self-sustaining. The regional galleries of NSW should look to institutions such as Ballarat and Bendigo as benchmarks, and should be supported by the state government to acquire comparable facilities and staff so they too can begin to operate in the same way. The ultimate benefit would be an expanded system in which NSW galleries could take loan exhibitions from Victoria — such as the outstanding Rick Amor: From Study to Painting at Castlemaine, reviewed in these pages a fortnight ago — as well as producing exhibitions that could tour in NSW, Victoria and elsewhere.
The Wolfhagen retrospective itself is a model of what can be achieved by co-operation between galleries, in this case between Newcastle and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, where the exhibition will open later this year, before touring to several other locations across Australia throughout 2014-15. The sharing of resources helps to make possible the investment of time and effort