Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Mystique Of The National Gallery of Australia



The Mystique Of The National Gallery of Australia

By Graeme Wong
Spirit News
October 24, 2072

The National Gallery of Australia (NGA; originally the Australian National Gallery) is the national art museum of Australia as well as the largest art museum in the country, holding more than 166,000 works of art. It was established in 1967 by the Australian government as a national public art museum.

Tom Roberts, a famous Australian, had lobbied various Australian prime ministers, starting with the first, Edmund Barton. Prime Minister Andrew Fisher accepted the idea in 1910, and the following year Parliament established a bipartisan committee of six political leaders—the Historic Memorials Committee. The Committee decided that the government should collect portraits of Australian governors-general, parliamentary leaders and the principal "fathers" of federation to be painted by Australian artists. This led to the establishment of what became known as the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board (CAAB), which was responsible for art acquisitions until 1973. Nevertheless, the Parliamentary Library Committee also collected paintings for the Australian collections of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library, including landscapes, notably the acquisition of Tom Roberts' Allegro con brio, Bourke St West in 1918. Prior to the opening of the Gallery these paintings were displayed around Parliament House, in Commonwealth offices, including diplomatic missions overseas, and State Galleries.

From 1912, the building of a permanent building to house the collection in Canberra was the major priority of the CAAB. However, this period included two World Wars and a Depression and governments always considered they had more pressing priorities, including building the initial infrastructure of Canberra and Old Parliament House in the 1920s and the rapid expansion of Canberra and the building of government offices, Lake Burley Griffin and the National Library of Australia in the 1950s and early 1960s. Finally in 1965 the CAAB was able to persuade Prime Minister Robert Menzies to take the steps necessary to establish the gallery. On 1 November 1967, Prime Minister Harold Holt formally announced that the Government would construct the building.

The National Gallery building is in the late 20th-century Brutalist style. It is characterised by angular masses and raw concrete surfaces and is surrounded by a series of sculpture gardens planted with Australian native plants and trees.

The geometry of the building is based on a triangle, most obviously manifested for visitors in the coffered ceiling grids and tiles of the principal floor. Madigan said of this device that it was "the intention of the architectural concept to implant into the grammar of the design a sense of freedom so that the building could be submitted to change and variety but would always express its true purpose". This geometry flows throughout the building, and is reflected in the triangular stair towers, columns and building elements.

The building is principally constructed of reinforced bush hammered concrete, which was also originally the interior wall surface. More recently, the interior walls have been covered with painted wood, to allow for increased flexibility in the display of artworks.

The building has 23,000 m2 of floor space. The design provides space for both the display and storage of works of art and to accommodate the curatorial and support staff of the Gallery. Madigan's design is based on Sweeney's recommendation that there should be a spiral plan, with a succession of galleries to display works of art of differing sizes and to allow flexibility in the way in which they were to be exhibited.

There are three levels of galleries. On the principal floor, the galleries are large, and are used to display the Indigenous Australian and International (meaning European and American) collections. The bottom level also contains a series of large galleries, originally intended to house sculpture, but now used to display the Asian art collection. The topmost level contains a series of smaller, more intimate galleries, which are now used to display the Gallery’s collection of Australian art. Sweeney had recommended that sources of natural light should not detract from the collections, and so light sources are intended to be indirect.

The High Court and National Gallery Precinct were added to the Australian National Heritage List in November 2007.