Caroline Field has an extensive knowledge of Australian art, and is directly involved in its artistic assessment, collection management and presentation. She commenced her role as Curator, ACU Art Collection in August 2016.
When I first came to ACU, we had a sprawling, largely unaccounted for collection of artworks. As the inaugural art curator, my major task has been to assess and catalogue identified artworks across our seven campuses nationwide. The collection today reflects what I saw on my curator’s journey and my evaluation and assessment of each work of art.
Here I would like to recount my experience of discovering an art collection, and redressing its home and importance within the University. Through bringing a sense of order to the collection and imbuing it with new life, we have preserved a cultural asset that promotes the core values of ACU: commitment to truth, academic excellence and service, all within the Catholic intellectual tradition.
The work begins
The project commenced with the sourcing of information from existing records, including asset registers, documentation from earlier disbanded art committees, photographs, and oral histories provided by my colleagues. Additionally, an informative DVD, Art and Life, produced by the ACU Chair of Academic Board, Professor Margot Hillel, discussing highlights of the collection was extremely useful.
There were many extraordinary surprises, including a major icon by the 15th century artist Taddeo di Bartolo, an important Indigenous bark painting by Minyipa Murningurr, an arresting sculpture by Ernst Fries, a mesmeric mosaic by Mary Gabriel, a superb ceramic by Pippin Drysdale and a monumental painting by landscape artist Mary Tonkin.
Many works were acquired as a result of a passionate interest in art, and now form the foundation of the collection. A great number supported our University’s Mission, contextually reflecting the Catholic intellectual tradition and acting in Truth and Love.
A new approach
With this understanding and appreciation of past history, I commenced a new collecting practice. Having managed multiple collections, and understanding the curatorial need for systematic organisation, my principal aim has been to introduce order to the collection and a structure from which the collection can develop.
Within the first 12 months I created an acquisition policy that presented a framework for four key categories of collection growth: ACU Chapel Collection, ACU Ceremonial Collection, ACU Historical Collection, and ACU Modern and Contemporary Art Collection. A primary rationale in this categorisation was that each item must inspire imagination and curiosity through an intimate and meaningful engagement.
Alongside this development, and working within the architectural character and landscape of the University’s physical context, I embarked upon a major and dynamic shift in the developmental history of the ACU Art Collection.
Looking to the future
While building upon existing works, the aim with future acquisitions would not only provide visible and spiritually uplifting material, they would also challenge the viewer to experience and appreciate art in a new perspective. Artworks, I believe, are a critical aspect of the experience of the University, providing key moments of student life. It is important to have a dialogue with both historical and contemporary art in order to make sound value judgements.
My principal aims are to develop a religious resonance and inspire contemporary imagination, augment artist’s representation within the collection, support emerging artists, ensure gender representation and embrace a wide range of artistic practice.
Meeting the challenges
Significant curatorial challenges lie in the presentation and accessibility of the collection, and the integration of art into the University landscape within the environmental, social and urban realities of our institution’s framework. By rethinking and enlivening spaces, we extend the life and character of the environment. With the installation of an artwork, another character, personality or voice is invited into a space, often resulting in the joy of discovering art in unexpected locations.
Giving art a place within our institution is an important curatorial activity, and I am continuously seeking significant spaces, enclosures and suitable backdrops to display highlights from our rewarding collection.
As Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Greg Craven has previously stated, “Above all we want to contribute in a substantial and meaningful way to the cultural and intellectual life of the University and all staff and students.”
I am now turning my attention toward adding to the collection and building on what is important to the University from a curatorially sound perspective. Recent acquisitions aim to broaden and enhance the base of the collection in a spiritually uplifting and aesthetically pleasing manner.
Helen Johnson, 23 Specific References 2012
Synthetic polymer paint on sized, imitation gold leaf, linen, leather, silk, copper nails 43 x 27 cm
While complementing the historical representations of the Madonna and Child held within the University’s collection, Johnson’s contemporary interpretation of the subject is imbued with grace, tenderness and reflection.
Sally Gabori, Dibirdibi Country 2012
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas 150 x 90 cm
A singular monumental canvas of daring colour juxtapositions, producing a vibrant and audacious painting. While the artist’s works are recognised as abstraction, her fascination with colour seems as significant as the content itself.
Mark Rodda, Pre-Industrial mechanism 2017
Acrylic and oil on wood panel 50 x 45 cm
Drawing on a range of influences from children’s picture book illustrations to Persian, Chinese and pre-modern Western painting, Mark Rodda creates landscapes that are a fantastic blend of traditions and his own imaginings.
Caleb Shea, Untitled 2018
Aluminium and urethane paint 54 x 40 x 20 cm
A compact stand-alone sculpture with a figurative association “animated by a delicate balance”. The upper extension with two arms outstretched is situated on a three-legged tripodal form.