The Courier-Mail - QWeekend


The Gold Coast has cast off its reputation as a cultural backwater with a striking new art gallery


$37.5 million outdoor stage), HOTA Gallery is comprised of six levels with more than 2000sq m of exhibition space and a dedicated children’s gallery as well as a restaurant, rooftop bar, shop and artists’ studios.

The colourful exterior is impressive. It’s the scale that surprised me and the unique design, inspired by the rainforest paintings of Queensland artist William Robinson. It’s a distinctiv­e building and it is a landmark like Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and Jorn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House. Big call I know, but this will be a cultural destinatio­n in the same way they are. HOTA Gallery is that striking.

When gallery director Tracy Cooper-Lavery turns up to take me on a tour of the nearly completed masterpiec­e I am still agape.

“It’s … impressive,” I venture.

“Well come inside and you will get a completely different experience,” Cooper-Lavery promises. “Every time I come in it’s a difference experience for me too. I have these little moments of realisatio­n that this is actually happening. It’s all a little surreal.

“I think we are incredibly fortunate that our city has decided to put so much faith and financial support into this project.”

The HOTA Gallery has been funded by the City of Gold Coast and the beauty of that is that the HOTA Gallery will not be beholden to the federal or state government­s. There will be much less red tape.

Gold Coast mayor Tom Tate has been a champion of culture on the strip, backing the popular Bleach Festival and the establishm­ent of the HOTA cultural precinct by the Nerang River in Surfers Paradise.

He recognises the fact that some people have looked on with raised eyebrows.

“I remember a comment from a Melbourne arts critic shortly after I was elected mayor in 2012,” Tate recalls. “The critic said the Gold Coast was a cultural desert. That stuck with me and was a driving force behind me taking the concept of an arts and cultural precinct to the council of the day. The result was the birth of our 10-year masterplan for what is now known as HOTA. When the gallery opens on May 8 our

The colourful HOTA Gallery at Surfers Paradise will be the largest art gallery outside a capital city in Australia; (Far left) gallery director Tracy Cooper-Lavery, (at left) and HOTA CEO Criena Gehrke.



Nigel Hallett arts and cultural evolution will be in full swing. I’d like to catch up with the critic and say, ‘Guess what? The desert has blossomed’.”

Of course the critic did have a point. I had a misspent youth on the Gold Coast and early in my journalist­ic career worked for the Gold Coast Bulletin before going freelance on the Glitter Strip for a couple of years. In those days the locals’ idea of culture was having the movie The Coolangatt­a Gold filmed there. Not a very good movie either by the way.

In the early 1980s though there were finally moves afoot to build an arts centre, although there was a backlash against the idea. More people wanted a new sewerage system than an arts centre, apparently, and I wrote a story for The National Times newspaper in 1984 that ran with the headline, “Art versus sewerage: the great Gold Coast controvers­y”.

Even the Gold Coast Bulletin’s art critic of the day, the late artist John Millington, wasn’t sure the place deserved a public gallery.

“War museums and freak places suit this place better,” Millington told me. “One doesn’t

build a serious art gallery in the middle of a gigantic fun park.” He had a point.

Even the entertaine­r Barry Humphries (an art aficionado and painter himself), who was performing on the Gold Coast at the time, weighed in on the issue. At a press conference for his show he said he had heard about the controvers­y and suggested that part of the sewerage system could be drained from time to time to hold undergroun­d art exhibition­s.

Of course they did go ahead with an art gallery and arts centre which opened in 1986 and is still there although it has been well and truly superseded by the new facilities, including HOTA Gallery which will enable more of the city’s fine art collection to be permanentl­y on display.

Cooper-Lavery is the perfect person to run the new gallery. She grew up on the Gold Coast and started her career at the Gold Coast City Art Gallery before moving on to establish herself as a gallery director to watch in Bendigo and Rockhampto­n, where she put Rocky back on the map in artistic terms.

She has spent the past few years helping bring the HOTA Gallery to fruition and she simply can’t hide her delight.

“Still, I think there will be people who won’t believe it until they see it,” she says as we wander through the cavernous interior. “Some people still have a hard time getting their heads around the idea that incredible art and culture can come from the Gold Coast.

“People who have seen the gallery being built have been shocked and amazed. I started out working at the Gold Coast City Gallery in 1992 so I feel really invested in this project. The Gold Coast is my spiritual home so it was nice to come back. Mayor Tom Tate is a man who has a vision and he has driven this gallery and the master plan for the precinct from day one.”

Cooper-Lavery says the building itself invokes discussion. “There are people who have differing views of the design,” she says.

HOTA Board chair professor Ned Pankhurst is thrilled with the final result after years of planning. “I love it,” he says. “It captures the essence of the Gold Coast. It’s a very cheerful and inyour-face building. Inside it has a lovely presence and peacefulne­ss and a sense of gravitas. There’s a contrast between the brightness outside and the calmness and dignity of the interior.”

HOTA CEO Criena Gehrke has been on the Gold Coast for eight years and says the HOTA precinct is a project about “sheer ambition and transforma­tion … at speed”.

“It has not happened this fast anywhere else,” Gehrke says. “People should be jealous. And it has happened because there’s something in the DNA of the Gold Coast that is contempora­ry and fresh. We’re not bound by tradition so we can do things differentl­y here.”

Of course having a building is one thing but what about the art?

The six-level gallery has a pretty strong exhi

Ramesh Mario Nithiyendr­an with his sculpture at the new HOTA Gallery entrance; Anna Carey’s 84 Frank St, Surfers Paradise; Ben Quilty’s Sarah Island, Tasmania; artist Abbey McCulloch.



Alex bition program lined up and will launch, appropriat­ely with Solid Gold: Artists from Paradise, which will run until late June. Presented across the gallery and the HOTA Parklands this will feature major new commission­s and art by emerging and establishe­d artists including Hiromi Tango, Abbey McCulloch, Samuel LeightonDo­re and many others.

Equally appropriat­ely it will be followed in July by a major exhibition by the man who inspired the building’s design, William Robinson, arguably our greatest living landscape painter. Lyrical landscapes: the Art of William Robinson will run from July 24 to October 3.

On our tour Cooper-Lavery points out windows on the building’s western side that give views of the mountains of the Gold Coast hinterland where Robinson once lived and painted. Robinson’s hymn to those mountains and the Border Ranges, his Creation Series, will be exhibited in its entirety for the first time in the exhibition curated by his friend and former Governor-General of Australia, Dame Quentin Bryce. His magnificen­t, mural-sized work, The Rainforest, will also be on show.

Later in the year HOTA Gallery will present Contempora­ry Masters from New York: Art from the Mugrabi Collection featuring 70 works from some of the world’s most influentia­l artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. Alongside these exhibition­s there will be a children’s show and a selection of works from the city’s $32 million collection consisting of more than 4400 artworks, including one of the largest collection­s of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art in regional Australia.

Presented across the gallery, the HOTA Collects exhibition will draw more than 100 works including some by Ben Quilty, Fred Williams, Charles Blackman, Tracey Moffatt, Michael Zavros (a Gold Coast boy) and many more.

Cooper-Lavery says some people may be surprised by the depth of talent on show in Solid Gold: Artists from Paradise.

One of the artists featured, Abbey McCulloch, lives at Burleigh and attended Miami State High School and she admits that there are misconcept­ions about the Gold Coast but doesn’t mind.

“The image problem of the Gold Coast could be its greatest asset,” McCulloch says.

“I’ve always loved the fact that it is misunderst­ood. That gives an artist a certain freedom because there’s none of that self-consciousn­ess and you don’t always have to be glancing sideways to see what everyone else is doing.”

The 45-year-old artist says she is bowled over

by the new gallery. “I’m just so happy it exists,” McCulloch says. “I don‘t care what it looks like. It could be covered in fake fur as far as I’m concerned. It’s what is inside that counts.”

Fellow Gold Coast artist Samuel LeightonDo­re agrees. He lives at Broadbeach Waters having moved from Sydney four years ago.

His interactiv­e work Cloud Drive features an entire wall of puffy white ceramic clouds drilled into a blue wall. This work can be interacted with digitally but can also just be appreciate­d in its analog form.

Leighton-Dore, 29, says he is “super excited to have such an internatio­nal standard gallery” on the Gold Coast.

“It’s going to help shift perception­s and expectatio­ns,” he says.

The gallery has given a lot of artists employment at a difficult time and has commission­ed large-scale outdoor art installati­ons by Australian artists Judy Watson and Ramesh Mario Nithiyendr­an. Nithiyendr­an has created a monumental six-metre-high sculpture for the lower-ground entrance to the gallery.

The bronze, concrete and fibreglass creation that guards the entrance to the gallery has copped some criticism from readers of the Gold Coast Bulletin but Tate in his good-natured way defended the commission at a recent council meeting.

He suggests armchair critics enjoy a drink at HOTA’s rooftop venue and take another look at the work.

“Art is subjective. I say to you, go up, get up close and personal, have a good look at it. Don’t like it, have another drink, keep doing it until you like it. Then by the end of the night you go, ‘that’s a great piece’,” he told councillor­s last month.

Watson’s installati­on will feature a sculpture garden including a pathway forming a topographi­cal map depicting the nearby Nerang River prior to European settlement. Quandamook­a artists Libby Harward and Elisa Jane Carmichael also have works in this installati­on.

Standing in The Exhibition­ist Bar, the rooftop bar and dining venue at HOTA Gallery, the view of the highrise towers of Surfers Paradise is impressive and will be doubly so at night. I think about my misspent youth and my days picking up glasses at the Surfers Paradise beer garden. In those days the Gold Coast really was a cultural desert. But as Mayor Tom Tate says, the desert is blooming. Blooming wonderful. ■



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