A new exhibition at RMIT Gallery explores what happens once artworks come down off the walls and gives audiences a peak into how valuable assets are handled, packaged, stored and conserved.
The Quiddity exhibition (1 July - 20 August) explores a different side of the university's extensive art collection and its ongoing use as a teaching tool.
Works are not displayed traditionally as objects selected by a curator, but as objects viewed from the perspective of the conservator.
Quiddity (Latin, meaning "the essence of a thing") is curated by RMIT Gallery Collections Coordinator Jon Buckingham in collaboration with interns from the RMIT Master of Arts (Arts Management), and explores the idea of thinking about artworks as physical objects rather than seeing them as items invested with meaning or expressing emotion.
"Quiddity gives students the opportunity to put the skills they have learned into practice and tests whether theory can stand up to the real-time practicalities of curation in a public art gallery," Buckingham said.
Drawn entirely from the RMIT University Art Collection, the exhibition will display new acquisitions alongside some of the University's older treasures, which have remained largely unseen for decades.
These include works by a diverse range of artists including Chris Bond, Helga Groves, Hisaharu Motoda, Anthony Pryor, Klaus Rinke, Ah Xian, and Ken and Julia Yonetani.
Quiddity promises to disrupt the customary model of displaying art and RMIT Gallery's exhibition spaces will be translated into the visual language of the store room, where materials, provenance, condition, and size are given precedence over theme or chronology.
"Selecting artworks for exhibition requires practical knowledge in several interrelated disciplines," RMIT Gallery Director Suzanne Davies said.
"It is intriguing to experience the outcome of this close interaction between the rarely revealed professional demands and responsibilities of working with a high- profile collection."
The RMIT University Art Collection provides a considerable overview of Australian and international art history, and over the past 126 years has become something of a cultural barometer, demonstrating the evolution artistic style, thought and technique across decades and generations.
It has also been an important repository for education and research and a source of inspiration for staff and students.
"Quiddity takes the unconventional approach of exploring the RMIT Art Collection from the perspective of registrar or a conservator rather than a curator," Buckingham said.
"It aims to question the inherent limitations of exhibitions in displaying art objects, explores the effect that the passage of time and entropy has on them, and reveals the life artworks have outside the context of a traditional gallery setting."
Eleanor Boydell, who began studying the arts management degree in semester one, said that working on Quiddity revealed the vast range of considerations that go into curating an exhibition apart from simply choosing artworks.
"This practical exercise has been a great opportunity to see how the art exhibitions and public programs I've long experienced as an audience member and further explored through my Masters course are actually constructed."
Quiddity is supported by a range of free public programs that further explore the themes in the exhibition, starting with Jon Buckingham in conversation with Danielle Measday, Conservator of Natural Sciences, Museum Victoria on Thursday 7 July, 5.30 – 6.30pm. Register online.
Success Begins Here: Places are still available to start studying the Master of Arts (Arts Management) in July.
Story: Evelyn Tsitas