DIS­TANT VIS­TAS

Il­lu­mi­na­tion: The Art of Philip Wolfha­gen Wolfha­gen — Propo­si­tions

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Christopher Allen

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

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