The National Gallery of Australia is to be reorganised to give new prominence to Australian artists in a dramatic makeover coinciding with the lead-up to the gallery’s new summer “blockbuster,” starring the works of 19th-century Antipodean painter Tom Roberts.
Recently-appointed director Gerard Vaughan said the move was not about crowd numbers but about the gallery doing its job. He said sometimes the NGA “needs to give blockbuster status to our own heroes”.
Arts Minister George Brandis made the announcement alongside Dr Vaughan, saying Robert’s works were a study of “the early years of Australian history”.
“The works of Tom Roberts are some of Australia’s best known, best loved. They capture so much of the early Australian colonial spirit and so many have become iconic,” Mr Brandis said.
The Tom Roberts exhibition will feature over 130 works. Roughly half are portraits and half landscapes, and include paintings, pastels, drawings, printing and sculpture.
Mr Vaughan conceded it may not generate the same excitement or numbers as last summer’s James Turrell exhibition, but the gallery had to do its job by celebrating Australian culture.
“We must, as the National Gallery of Australia based in Canberra, we must celebrate in a blockbuster way our own visual culture.
“An Australian blockbuster is not going to sell the number of tickets as post-impressionism from the Musée d’Orsay. We know that, we do our market research. But it is part of our job and it is not all about numbers,” he said.
The re-hang will see the Australian collection brought onto level one of the building and the international collection, including Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles, moved upstairs.
Mr Vaughan said the gallery wanted to move away from the chronological hang as the style was “looking a little old-fashioned”.