PRINT October 2003


the National Gallery of Victoria

The Australian art world is having a growth spurt. In Brisbane, a $65 million museum is under construction, augmenting and vastly extending the reach of the Queensland Art Gallery, home to the Asia Pacific Triennial. Down south, a whole new commercial-gallery district has sprung up in Sydney, while, most auspiciously, in Melbourne an ambitious expansion of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), involving both a major renovation and a new museum building, is nearly complete. Reopening in December, the original NGV has been given a $100 million overhaul by Milanese design maestro Mario Bellini in collaboration with local architectural team Métier 3. The exterior facade of the renamed “NGV International” has been retained, but the interior exhibition space has been increased by nearly 25 percent. Opening with a slew of shows that includes an exhibition curated in-house by Jason Smith and Charles Green, featuring the work of Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Doug Aitken, Lee Bul, and Sarah Sze, the museum will focus on modern and historical art from beyond the fatal shore.

And where goes the Australian art? Down the street and across the Yarra River, where the NGV has spawned a spanking-new showcase. The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, which opened last October, is the biggest jewel in the governmental crown that is the controversial, $290 million Federation Square development. A new civic precinct combining cultural institutions and commercial and outdoor public space, Federation Square is also home to an innovative film, video, and new-media museum, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. Emphasizing access and permeability, the Ian Potter Centre’s designers, Lab architecture studio of London in association with Bates Smart Melbourne, have provided multiple points of entry and an off-the-grid, figure-eight fluidity that spills dramatically onto city vistas. To quote NGV director Gerard Vaughan, “This is a radical shift from the concept of the art museum as fortified treasure house.” It is also an aggressive bid for public patronage and interstate cultural supremacy.

A massive shot in the arm for the Australian art world, the two NGV institutions provide enormous scope, with considerable attention promised to indigenous and contemporary work. The galleries will continually rotate the state’s ever-expanding collection of European, Asian, and Aboriginal art while also hosting historical blockbusters, curated projects, and topical exhibitions. The NGV’s total exhibition acreage is now over two hundred thousand square feet, which according to the press release is roughly the size of the Melbourne Cricket Ground, once the city’s most celebrated icon. Maybe art in post-colonial Australia is about to give sport a run for its cultural money.

Australia native Jeff Gibson is production director of Artforum and managing editor of Bookforum.