As UQ Art Museum prepares to celebrate its 40th anniversary, we asked Director Dr Campbell Gray for his thoughts on the institution’s longevity, the exhibition planned to mark the occasion and showcase the breadth of the University’s significant Art Collection, and what we can expect of the UQ Art Museum in the future.
Q: Are there common threads that connect the UQ Art Museum of 40 years ago to today?
A: In 1976 the University Art Museum opened its doors with an Art Collection and a commitment to contemporary art and the relationships between exhibitions and contemporary thinking. Forty years later we continue to explore and interrogate contemporary issues through contemporary art. While the Art Museum has generally had a broad, open approach to welcoming visitors and promoting its activities, I feel as time’s gone by, the original idea of student engagement is being even more assertively and positively applied across the campus. Students are being given substantial opportunities to engage in the important issues surrounding their disciplines. Along with that goes a strong commitment to education and helping students to obtain professional experiences that are advantageous to their future careers.
Q: Why do you think UQ Art Museum has gone from strength to strength over the past 40 years?
A: The University itself has played a very important role in the Art Museum’s success. Since establishing an Art Collection in the 1940s, the University has had an unwavering commitment to the Collection, to the Art Museum’s important contribution to a rich campus community, and to its role as provocateur – a place that stimulates questions and thought. Perhaps that’s the very special nature of university art museums in general, but it’s certainly alive and well at the UQ Art Museum.
Q: Over the Art Museum’s lifetime, philanthropy has shaped the institution it’s become today. How important is the philanthropic community when it comes to the arts and is the role of donors becoming increasingly crucial to the university art museum landscape?
A: Profoundly yes – I express my humble gratitude to those wonderful supporters, who over the years have given artworks to the University and also assisted us in purchasing works. In examining our holdings in 2013 we found that 58.2% of the Collection’s value was derived from gifts. Such acts of generosity have contributed to building an exceptional educational and cultural resource, now even more accessible through the opening last year of the Alumni Friends of UQ Collection Study Room, funded entirely by philanthropy.
But it’s not simply about attracting monetary contributions that enable us to stretch beyond the University’s general funding capacity. At UQ, we have access to a world of opportunities through teaching, learning and research. So the things we can achieve beyond our funding allocation can also directly impact on this dynamic learning environment to the benefit of students, educators and the community. Often the people who can help us reach these goals are also socially aware and active advocates. They’re our loyal companions in the work we’re doing and are valuable to us far beyond monetary terms. As important stakeholders in the broader community, when they invest in our institution, in its program and in our people, they’re declaring our value to society. With friendship and affection at the core, our donor community has a special engagement with us, brought about by being partners in a mission we all feel is valuable. Without these people, the landscape is much poorer and much weaker.
Q: Did the process of studying the UQ Art Collection in preparation for the exhibition beyond the Tower: UQ Art Museum – 40 years and counting reveal to you anything new about the Collection or did you see it in a different light?
A: This process helped me see the themes, patterns, links and relationships within the Collection, more than I have in the past. My co-curator Samantha Littley and I reviewed 3,700 works, one by one, to create this exhibition. Due to finite exhibition space, we’ve unfortunately had to eliminate many works we really wanted to show. In fact, we could do this exhibition multiple times over and not show the same works and they would be equally as wonderful exhibitions.
Q: What’s lies ahead for the UQ Art Museum?
A: I truly feel that we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface. As we look to a future where our connections to research and teaching across campus will only continue to strengthen, our exhibition and public programs will be enriched by new and interesting ideas and deep engagement and scholarship. It’s a very exciting prospect.
beyond the Tower: UQ Art Museum – 40 years and counting will open at UQ Art Museum on 9 July and run until 13 November 2016.