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  • May 13, 2016

First Acquisitions of Australian Artworks Announced by MCA, Tate and Qantas

Left to right: Leanne Bennett (wife of the late artist Gordon Bennett); Elizabeth Ann Macgregor OBE (MCA, Director); Alan Joyce (Qantas, CEO); Judy Watson (artist); Susan Norrie (artist) and Vernon Ah Kee (artist). Photo by Ken Leanfore. Courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney.

On May 13, Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) and London’s Tate unveiled at the MCA the first five artworks by four Australian artists that will be co-owned by the two institutions to be displayed in both countries. Two video works, two paintings and an artist’s book will cross the world several times over in the coming years, when details of the shared ownership program will be worked out.

The program is sponsored by the Qantas Foundation, with funding amounting to AUD 2.75 million, which will be distributed over five years. Each year will see a new suit of works being produced by established Australian artists selected by curators from both institutions. Speaking at the program launch, MCA senior curator Natasha Bullock stressed that part of the selection criteria is to choose artists who “each has an extensive exhibition history and has been making art for many years.”

Vernon Ah Kee’s Tall Man (2010), a 11-minute, 4-channel video installation, Judy Watson’s 16-sheet artist’s book A Preponderance of Aboriginal Blood (2005), Susan Norrie’s single-channel HD video Transit (2011) and two paintings by the late Gordon Bennett, Possession Island (Abstraction) (1991) and Number Nine (2008), are the first acquisitions by the two institutions, with the MCA being the inaugural exhibitor. This month, three of the five artworks will be on display at the MCA Collection Galleries, and two more will be included in the new MCA Collection exhibition opening in September.

While the exact details of the time frame for the exhibition at the Tate are yet to be worked out, MCA director Elizabeth Ann Macgregor has commented that it could be up to two years before the Tate has an opportunity to show the work. “There will not be an Australian gallery, and the works will not necessarily be hung together at the same time, but what we want to do is make sure they take the works into their new collection hang,” Macgregor told ArtAsiaPacific.

The ground-breaking initiative has been made possible by sponsorship by the Qantas Foundation, which boasts a 17-year partnership with the MCA. Speaking on the objective of the program, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce explained, “We wanted to do something that would give a stronger voice to Australian art, something that the Tate and the MCA couldn’t have done otherwise. We wanted to do something long lasting and transformative,” he added.

Addressing the logic of shared ownership Macgregor said, “Money today is short and art is expensive. Joyce added: “We believe [the program] will generate a lot of interest in Australian art around the world . . . building careers and opportunities. This is something that is unique and hasn’t been done before.”

Three of the four artists—Watson, Kee and Bennett—have Aboriginal heritage. Their inclusion marks an acceptance of Australian indigenous art on the world art stage that has, according to both Watson and Kee been, “a long time coming.”