The Big List: what made an impact in the visual arts in 2018

2018 was big: big blockbusters, big lobbying, big cock-ups and big shifts at the top end for the visual arts.
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In 2017 the visual arts sector was gaining some footing, making the best of recalibrations in the wake of 2016’s funding cuts. That strategic, forward-looking tone continued into 2018, with a more empathetic and mindful sector. There was a lot of work done in trying to get the balance better – in gender representation, in First Nations conversations and in the areas of ethnic diversity and disability in programming and policy.

Overall it was an insanely busy year in the visual arts, with major exhibitions, biennales and blockbusters rolled out at a frightening pace. We wonder why, come December, we are exhausted? But on the pendulum swing of those big shows, there was also great collection activation across our galleries, and an ever-strengthening regional sector punching well above its weight.

I finished the year with an optimistic outlook.

Who championed new frontiers in 2018? And what were the trends and scandals? What did we get wrong, and what were the wins for our sector? Here is a Big List of answers.

Biggest cock-up

In October, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian agreed that the horse race The Everest 2018 could be advertised upon the world heritage site Sydney Opera House. Under a policy adopted by the Opera House in 2012, no identifying logos are to be projected onto the structure of the sails, with further limits on the number of occasions that the sails can be used.

The government, however, chose to override that policy and Opera House CEO, Louise Herron. The arts sector – supported by the general public – were enraged over the decision, which was not reversed.

Biggest chair to fill

2018 has been a huge year of seat-shuffling at the top, with many appointments offering a gender re-balance at the executive level. In April, Dr Natasha Cica resigned as CEO of Heide Museum of Modern Art after just one year in the role. In July, Nick Mitzevich moved from the directorship at the Art Gallery of South Australia, to take up the top job at the National Gallery of Australia. He told ArtsHub: ‘Institutions are never vacuum-sealed off from the past. I want to understand the DNA of the organisation and take it to the next stage.’

Also in July, Create NSW appointed American, Elizabeth Scott as Executive Director, Create Investment and Engagement, replacing Michael Brealey who resigned in March. With a law background, and as a practising conductor, Scott has been described as ‘championing cross-industry content aggregation’.

That same month, Dolla Merrillees stepped down as Director of MAAS (Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences). While the focus at the time was on the growing storm over the Powerhouse Museum, what didn’t make the news was that Merrillees had been ill and declined to reapply for the newly restructured position.

It was not until November that Carriageworks Director Lisa Havilah was announced to take on the MAAS role. Her position at Carriageworks is yet to be filled. Havilah is the fourth woman to take the reigns of the Powerhouse. The last exhibition to be mounted by the Powerhouse Museum in its current Ultimo location will be in late 2019. Havilah will oversee the building of the new Museum in Parramatta and ensure that the Museum remains relevant over the three-year gap in construction before reopening in 2023.

To add to the dervish of change in July, Rhana Devenport was named incoming director at the AGSA, returning to Australia from New Zealand where she was director of Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, and the Auckland Art Gallery. She is the first female director in the AGSA’s 140-year history.

In August on the back of the SA Elections, Executive Director of Arts South Australia, Peter Louca, was dismissed by the Marshall Government of South Australia. Angus Trumble stepped down from the National Portraits Gallery after five years, opening the role of Director up to another female – Karen Quinlan – who heads to Canberra after serving as director of Bendigo Art Gallery for the past 18 years, and its Curator for three years prior to that. Quinlan started 10 December.

Next came the news that Adrian Collette would take over Tony Grybowski as CEO of the Australia Council. With a ‘deep regard for creative endeavour’, Collette’s career includes a 16-year stint as Opera Australia’s Chief Executive, 10 years in the publishing sector, and most recently University of Melbourne. He commences January 2019. The Australia Council also welcomed a new chair in 2018 with Sam Walsh.

Judith Neilson; courtesy UNSW

Biggest philanthropy

In February 2017, philanthropist and White Rabbit Gallery founder Judith Neilson AM made her second major donation to UNSW with the announcement of The Judith Neilson Chair in Contemporary Art – a gift of some $6 million toward rigorous thinking and scholarly research.

That was followed this year in November, when Neilson announced that she would fund a $100m institute for journalism in Sydney. The Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism & Ideas will encourage independent quality journalism by providing education and grants.

Other significant gifts during 2018 included a $4M partnership with the National Gallery of Australia by Wesfarmers, which includes a major international touring exhibition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art in Asia to be co-curated between organisations travelling to Singapore and cities in China and launched in 2020. The funding is over a six years.

In Sydney, philanthropists Sharon and Peter Ivany made the promise of a $1 million bequest to the MCA, while in October, Newcastle Art Gallery added 49 works of art with a combined value of more than half a million dollars to its collection, thanks to the overwhelming generosity of Sydney-based philanthropists James and Jacqui Erskine, and a number of private donors who matched their contribution.

Biggest newbie

Melbourne saw two new galleries this year, while Sydney and Perth both got new independent contemporary spaces. Buxton Contemporary opened in March, a purpose-built space housing the collection of Melbourne property developer Michael Buxton and his wife Janet, which has been embedded at the University of Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts (VCA). Ryan Johnston was appointed its inaugural director.

With a different tone, artist and bar owner Matt Bax launched Grau Projekt in November, after four years of planning. Grau Projekt’s signature manoeuver follows the concept of ‘artist-curated drinking’: every show will have a signature cocktail. Bax believes that the commercial art gallery model is pretty much broken and art is too often pushed to the back of the entertainment queue.

Located in Perth’s CBD, the Cool Change Contemporary opened in August – the initiative of a group of Perth artists – while in Sydney co-directors Megan Monte and Josephine Skinner, launched Cement Fondu, a fresh take in the traditional gallery suburb of Paddington. It has located former Stills Gallery, which wrapped up in July 2017 after 25-years.

Biggest disrespect

Art Gallery of WA chairwoman Janet Holmes à Court led a protest in October against the Perron Group’s intentions to relocate a $5 million artwork by artist Brian McKay, located in the foyer of Perth’s Central Park Building. Perron Group plans to relocate four of the five panels of the artwork in order to establish a coffee shop in the foyer. Experts confirm the artwork would be permanently damaged by any attempt to relocate the panels. The relocation is still pending.

Biggest box tick

Sydney Festival launched a new initiative designed to increase the number of Deaf artists and artists with disability creating work for Australian festivals; and the Australia Council committed $750,000 over three years to support sustainable careers and to recognise the artistic excellence of artists with disability. It will also present two new national awards to celebrate the achievement of artists with disability to be awarded annually on International Day of People with Disability commencing in 2019. Artists with disability continue to be under-represented among practicing professional artists and earn on average 42% less than their counterparts without disability.

Athi-Patra Ruga, The future white woman of Azania (2012) inkjet print; courtesy of the Artist. Photograph: Ruth Simbao, South Africa.

Biggest activity at the edges

Demonstrating how galleries at the edges punch well above their weight in interesting ways, we point to Cairns Art Gallery’s exhibition Continental Drift: Black/Blak Art from South Africa and north Australia  that brought together the shared colonial experience of South African and Indigenous Australian artists. We also have to give a nod to IMA’s (Brisbane) program this year delving into the practice of Tom Nicholson, and collaborative projects with Haegue Yang and Karabing Film Collective, among others. And across town the Griffith Museum of Art did what it does best – think! Its survey Archie Moore: 1970-2018 opened in March, transforming our space into a series of vignettes, and was top drawer.

In Victoria, Heide Museum of Art presented a interesting take on cameraless photography with a Danica Chappell’s work, and also survey shows on Victorian icons Mirka Mora and Grant and Mary Featherston. Across town at the Tarrawarra Museum of Art, it was the exhibition Patricia Piccinini & Joy Hester: Through love … that caught our interest as a really fascinating pairing. Regionally, the Bendigo Art Gallery unveiled renowned Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, her photos, and always leading, ACCA’s ongoing series of significant solo exhibitions by leading international artists delivered Irish-born, London-based artist Eva Rothschild’s Kosmos.

Installation view Kosmos 2018; ACCA; Photo Andrew Curtis

Hazelhurst Regional Gallery in Sydney’s south turned to its track record of surveys with a show on Alexander McKenzie’s work, followed later in the year by an incredible collaborative project between APY Land artists with non-Indigenous artists.

In its 20th anniversary year, Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG) presented the edgy international exhibition, EuroVisions: Contemporary Art drawn from the Goldberg, the collection of Sydney-based collectors Lisa and Danny Goldberg OAM; the Drill Hall presented a major rethink of painting across three venues, including ANU School of Art and Design Gallery and ANCA Gallery which put Australian contemporary painters in an expanded field.

Impressive out west was the continued work of International Art Space with its culminating project Spaced 3: north by southeast at AGWA which will present the resulting new works developed by 11 artists from Nordic countries and Australia during their ventures into new landscapes and unfamiliar terrain. While Monash University Art Museum (VIC) and UNSW Art & Design (NSW) continued to roll out impressive curatorial programs in 2018.

Biggest trending topic

2017 was focussed on wellbeing and mental health in the arts, adding much needed exposure to these topics that have a relatively poor record in the arts. This year, however, it was a two-fold conversation that trended. In 2018 the focus was on the sector’s lack in reflecting Australia’s cultural diversity, outlined in the report Voice, Agency and Integrity released by Diversity Arts Australia (DARTS), which highlighted systemic discrimination, tokenism and misrepresentation and called for actions.

It was also a year when we started to question the trend of creative ageing, and how past talk is not really addressing the crisis of our artists ageing into poverty, and the lack of sustainability in training and programs as our nation ages creatively. Joanna Maxwell, Director of the Age Discrimination Team at Australian Human Rights Commission, stated: ‘…research tells us that we have become more individual as we age, not more similar. Yet in papers, in government policy, and in all those ads for funeral plans, its assumed that people over 50 are all the same. What that says is that we have to get braver about creativity.’

Biggest keynote speech

One of the most powerful keynote speeches delivered in 2018 across the art conference landscape was that by artist Jonathan Jones at Artstate Bathurst. Nginha ngurambang marunbunmilgirridyu: I love this country – but do you? reminded all to find the heart in the rote “welcome to country” we rattle off, while at the MCA in Sydney it was a visit by Tate Director Maria Balshaw in April that delivered a hard line on the future of museums – our lack of balance, gender equality, rethinking youth, collaboration etc. As Balshaw stated: ‘I am not satisfied with the demographics of the audiences that we currently see.’

Biggest opinion

This was a line-call in 2018. On the one had we had artist Vernon Ah Kee delivering a paper at the Public Galleries Summit 2018 in March, presented by CreateNSW – ‘Blackfellas should run galleries’ – while at that same talk-fest, artist Ben Quilty called for changes to how artists are taxed.

Biggest correction

In a submission to the Federal Government in May 2018, former Director of the National Gallery of Australia (NGA), Dr Gerard Vaughan made the point that government funding was unchanged since 2007, sitting at $47 million a year. Money has been consistently siphoned from acquisition and development budgets to meet operational costs and repairs. More than a decade later, the government announced in its December 2018 mid-year budget update that it would commit $63.8 million over four years, reinstating a healthy acquisition budget.

Biggest initiative

There are two that caught our eye this past year – one global and one local in tone. The first is a nod we want to pay to the Australia Council’s newest research tool – the Electoral Profiler – an interactive page that provides information on arts and culture in each of Australia’s 150 federal electorate divisions. This is an incredible lobbying tool. The second is the undeniable rise in conversations around Blockchain in 2018, and what it means to the visual arts.

Biggest international move

An Australian art business took on the toughest art market in the world this year – New York – and has been making an impact. Established in April 2015, Art Money is a new way to buy art – essentially an old-fashioned lay-by but you get to take the art home. The Sydney-based company headed up by CEO Paul Becker opened offices in New York in 2018, and has its sights on London for next year. ‘We are in the business of culture change,’ Becker said on cracking the US Market.

Biggest fake

While 2017 was all about the fake art industry in Aboriginal-styled art and artefacts – most of which was coming out of Indonesia – this year it was a Sydney art dealer who took the crown. The Sydney Morning Herald broke the story that “Laura Loiuse Johnson” allegedly sold a forged painting by deceased artist Adam Cullen, falsifying provenance records from Cullen’s long-term Paddington dealer, Martin Browne. There were also reports of similarly dubious works offered by the art dealer by Emily Pwerle, Minnie Pwerle, Jun Chen, and David Bromley. The case remains with the police.

Biggest axe to grind

Disgruntled writer – and perhaps the sector’s most active whistle blower – Judith White has continued to pull out her knives this year after launching into a fight against Sydney Modern and the Powerhouse’s move to Parramatta, in Sydney’s West in 2017 via her blog, Culture Heist: Art versus Money.

Installation view John Mawurndjul at MCA; photo Artshub

Biggest collaboration

One of the most successful examples of collaboration in 2018 was the exhibition John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new, co-curated by the Art Gallery of SA and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, with cultural input from Maningrida Arts & Culture. Comprising 160 bark paintings and sculptures – 63 of which have been loaned back – research behind these works was key, as well as a digital language project.

Taking a wider view, a smaller project with an equally strong impact was the British Council’s new INTERSECT program launched this year, a peer mentorship program between future leaders, all of whom identify as having minority ethnic and First Nations backgrounds. BC’s new Country Director, Helen Salmon said, ‘people-to-people, institution-to-institution – it’s how trust is built, and how we ensure our outlook is both local and global.’

On a smaller scale, Newcastle’s independent space The Lock-Up took home awards for its project this year justiceINjustice, where lawyers and artists collaborated to expose injustice, and Hazelhurt Regional Gallery for its project Weapons For The Soldier, initiated by the young men of the APY Lands, to collaborate with non-Indigenous Australian artists to examine complex themes of weaponry, warfare, and protecting land and Country.

Biggest Biennale

2018 was a big year for biennales. First we had Adelaide Biennale in early March curated by SAMSTAG Director Erica Green for the Art Gallery of South Australia. Then a couple of weeks later, the 21st Biennale of Sydney was unveiled across Sydney venues under the theme SUPERPOSITION: Equilibrium and Engagement shaped by Tokyo-based curator Mami Kataoka (the first Asian curator in the exhibition’s history). In Melbourne, the NGV unveiled its mega exhibition the NGV Triennial; and the year wrapped up with 2019 Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT9) at Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane.

While these exhibitions were very different in their context, there was a shared tone across them – they all had a softer, more sensitive touch; their trigger points were more subtle than sledge hammer – except the NGV Triennial which took the alternate big bash thrash. Of a different scale, it also needs to be noted that both the TarraWarra Biennial 2018: From Will to Form – sixth edition in of the exhibition – and the Dobell Drawing Biennial presented by the AGNSW were also held in 2018 making this a huge contemporary survey year.

Review: Adelaide Biennial stumbles on curatorial tensions

Review: 21st Biennale of Sydney

Review: The NGV Triennial: Why it puts Melbourne on the map

Review: The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of contemporary Art, QAGOMA

Archie Moore, United Neytions, 2018, installation for T1 International Terminal, Sydney Airport, MCA & Sydney Airport Commission, 2018, photograph: Anna Kucera

Biggest public art

While the most contentious public art project in Australia remains Cloud Arch by Japanese artist and architect Junya Ishigami, commissioned by the City of Sydney Council in 2014, this month (December) the project was ‘deferred until after the tramline is finished’. The original contract estimate was $3.5 million; that has now blow out to a projected $22M, with $2.25m already been spent. It was supposed to be unveiled March 2019; construction has not started.

Rather it was a quiet sleeper, which is perhaps touching the greatest audience as a successful example of public art. Kamilaroi artist Archie Moore’s permanent installation at Sydney Airport’s T1 International Marketplace, was a collaboration with the MCA, 28 colourful flags suspended 17-metre-high in the terminal and offering a message of tolerance and intercultural understanding.

Other public works in 2018 was Callum Morton’s Monument #32: Helter Shelter, which allows visitors to step inside Trump’s head and take shelter from the elements (frankly, not the reality of the 45th president’s actions); the awarding of the iconic EORA commission to Judy Watson, and a permanent work by Zurich-based artist Pipilotti Rist (who has a solo show at the MCA last year) for a residential complex Undercroft at Central Park, Sydney. It was unveiled in December.

NAVA held Industry Roundtables in Sydney and Melbourne this year, to discuss urgent need for national standards in commissioning art in the public spaces, part of their re-evaluation of a Code of Practice for the visual arts.

Installation view of the National Gallery of Victoria’s The Field Revisited (2018) at NGV Australia at Federation Square. Photo by Tom Ross.

Biggest Blockbusters

2018 was a big year of blockbusters, demonstrating that the mega exhibition remains alive and well. The National Gallery of Australia started its blockbuster diet with Cartier: The Exhibition, then taking a look at its own collecting legacy with American Masters 1940-1980, and closing the year with the equally appealing Love & Desire: Pre-Raphaelite Masterpieces from the Tate.

NGV lead its smorgasbord with the much anticipated The Field Revisited at NGV Federation Square to mark the 50th anniversary of the seminal 1968 exhibition; it was followed by the mega coup, MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art, the 15th edition in their Melbourne Winter Masterpieces and touted the grandest event in this series; wrapping up the year with Julian Opie and Escher x nendo.

The MCA rolled out Beijing artist Sun Xun – Part of the post-1980s generation – and followed later in the year with David Goldblatt’s photographs. While across town at the AGNSW, their big ticket exhibition for 2018 was Masters of modern art from the Hermitage, and while perhaps not a “blockbuster” a survey of William Kentridge’s practice equally received a big splash.

In Perth it was A Window on Italy, The Corsini Collection: Masterpieces from Florence that was billed as their big hit in 2018, presented by the Art Gallery of WA, with Beyond Bling – a jewellery survey – bringing them into the summer months.

David Goldblatt Shop assistant, Orlando West, 1972, silver gelatin photograph on fibre-based paper; Image courtesy Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg and Cape Town © The David Goldblatt Legacy Trust

Biggest show

And the biggest show – literally by numbers – was David Goldblatt’s Photographs 1948–2018, with over 400 images at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) and curated by Rachel Kent in the months prior to Goldblatt’s death. It is the largest retrospective of the South African photographer’s work to be presented in the Asia Pacific region. Goldblatt’s philosophy was ‘We don’t just take images, we make images’, best known for his compelling black and white images of the rise and dismantling of apartheid.

Biggest faux pas

While NSW Minister for the Arts, Don Harwin has stepped up in supporting the arts this past year (most impressive was that he attended the State’s regional arts conference for four consecutive days), a blight hung heavy over his profile in late 2018. In September the Minister rejected independent recommendations to distribute $660,000 across 17 projects in a recent Create NSW funding round. Instead, he signed off on funding for only six of the 16 applications, reallocating $404,000 towards a single project, which the ABC identified as the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO). The SSO have since returned the $1M in full to Create NSW in October 2018. Earlier, sector leaders called Create NSW to account after a previously delayed funding round was revealed to be the ‘poorest funding round in history’.

Image of the Sydney Modern Project as produced by Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA © Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2018; Featuring artworks left to right: Ron Mueck, Standing woman, 2007 © Ron Mueck; Ron Mueck, Boy, 1999 © Ron Mueck; Ron Mueck, Man in a boat, 2002 © Ron Mueck.

Biggest build

2018 could be thought of as the year of the building boom, as cultural infrastructure across the nation was revamped, retrofitted, refurbished and reimagined. Leading the building news this year was the announcement of Australia’s largest contemporary art gallery to be constructed in Melbourne.  A new branch of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) dedicated to contemporary art and design will be constructed on the site of the existing Carlton & United Breweries Building on Southbank Boulevard. Funding to purchase the site and related costs, totalling some $150 million, was allocated by government in the May budget with the Labor Government additionally investing $208 million over two years in the first phase of the project.

In budget and kudos, it rivals Sydney Modern which is scheduled to break ground in early 2019. The AGNSW successfully raised the $244 million for the project, and its DA was approved in November. Meanwhile the Australian Museum wound back its ambitious Barrabuwari Muru Masterplan launched in 2016 with a $250M price tag – given the state governments commitments to Sydney Modern, the Powerhouse move and the Walsh Bay Arts Precinct – to get the green-light on the more modest scale but equally ambitious $57.5M refurbishment of its exhibition spaces; the Sydney Opera House unveiled its $71M facelift; while the NSW Regional Cultural Fund committed $8.592 million to Bundanon Trust, and the future development of Arthur Boyd’s Riversdale property. Carriageworks also put in a bid for a $50M facelift – the outcome is still pending.

Heading north to Queensland, it was The Arts Centre Gold Coast – rebranded Home of the Arts (HOTA) – that was the winner signing off on a $37.5 million outdoor stage and arts precinct. And in Victoria, Artbank opened its new Melbourne headquarters; Linden New Arts (VIC) celebrated the re-opening after is $1.9M refit; and in Tasmania with bigger than Ben Hur-style, Mona founder David Walsh announced plans for his HOMO hotel and convention centre expansion at a cost of $400M; Adelaide Contemporary is in a holding pattern with a change of government this year; and the State Libraries in Victoria ($88.1 million transformation) and NSW also both developed new gallery spaces.

In the top end, the Northern Territory Government, Commonwealth Government and the City of Darwin signed off on the Darwin City Deal in this November year, which includes $50 million for a new Art Gallery to be constructed in Darwin’s State Square.  And in Central Australia, the Northern Territory Government commenced development of a $150-$200 million National Aboriginal Art Gallery, with Gerard Vaughan and Franchesca Cubillo announced in November as Co-Chairs of its National Reference Group. 

In Canberra, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery of Australia received money for long overdue maintenance work, while the Australian War Memorial stirred sector outcry when it was granted $498M by the federal government for building works (more on that later). And the one that remains perpetually on this list at the moment … the Powerhouse Museum’s move to Parramatta, that will still highly controversial and with fluctuating budgets, was signed off the Berejiklian government in April. The price tag is currently estimated at $645M. But with an election looming … all could change.

Biggest re-think

Just months after the New York architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), in partnership with Adelaide practice Woods Bagot, was announced the winners for the Adelaide Contemporary design (June) – without full funding in place to commence – South Australia faced a change in government and the gallery a hiatus in plans. The new Marshall Government prefaced a National Aboriginal Arts Centre and Gallery over Adelaide Contemporary for the former Royal Adelaide Hospital (oRAH) site, with new director of AGSA confirming that “a gallery” would go ahead with the winning design, but the interim name Adelaide Contemporary was no longer on the table.

Biggest scandal

The sudden removal of ABC’s Managing Director, Michelle Guthrie in September, caused national outrage. ScreenHub reported at the time: ‘The federal government has created an artificial way of crippling the ABC and SBS. It has simply strangled the money supply as they struggle to transform themselves into digital media organisations … Michelle Guthrie correctly identified structural problems which she tried to reform, but seems only to have created a different set of bureaucratic mouths. While she moved the furniture and hired consultants, she never worked out how to put content first. The ABC exists to make great media and find an audience for it. If that doesn’t run in your bloodstream, in this time of crisis, you are doomed.’ 

Biggest court case

One of the greatest campaigns launched in 2017 was the Fake Art Harms Culture campaign spearheaded by The Arts Law Centre of Australia, the Indigenous Art Code, and Copyright Agency | Viscopy. Over the ensuing year there have been several wins, among them the first case to head to the Federal Court in March, as the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) targeted Indonesian company Birubi Art. The Federal Court found that Birubi Art was in breach of Australian Consumer Law. Arts Law continues to advocate for a complete prohibition on the sale of these cheap fakes.

Biggest unsung success

While there are any number of fantastic exhibitions worthy of this category, we are giving it to the exhibition, The Burrangong Affray, the result of 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art commissioning Chinese-Australian artists Jason Phu and John Young Zerunge to make work in response to the site of Australia’s largest racially motivated riot – not at Cronulla but around the gold fields of Lambing Flat in the 1860s.

Biggest gallery closure

In 2018 the art world said goodbye to Watters Gallery, which for 54 years was one of Australia’s most influential galleries. Frank Watters, and business partners Geoffrey and Alex Legge, opened the Darlinghurst gallery in 1964, and were among the first to show avant garde sculpture, and was known for its long-held relationships with artists. The gallery’s legacy is great, and Watters formalised that by inviting AGNSW curators to selected works from his personal collection; 32 gifted and valued over $1million.  The remainder of Watters’ personal collection goes to auction with Shapiro in 2019.

ArtsHub had a frank conversation with another Sydney gallerist who also closed up shop in 2018, Janet Clayton. She said: ‘The way people live today is not conducive to the acquisition of things, and that has had a huge impact on the gallery landscape.’ And in Melbourne, it was Fort Delta that closed its doors in 2018, after four years and a wobbly end.

Biggest acquisition

Yayoi Kusama is always a sure win for a gallery. And it would seem that the NGA has trumped QAGOMA in acquiring Kusama’s infinity room, The Spirits of the Pumpkins Descended into the Heavens (2015), which was presented in the Kusama survey exhibition at GOMA in Brisbane. The NGA acquisition was made possible through the generosity of Andrew and Hiroko Gwinnett for the Japanese Art Fund, who’s long-been my ambition had been to see a major contemporary Japanese artwork housed in Australia’s national collection. The gallery would not disclose the artwork’s value, needless to say it is significant.

GOMA had its own big acquisition this year as it turned on the light on a James Turrell commission – a luminous building wrap that had been 17-years in the thinking and realised as a signature piece for Brisbane. Funnily it was the NGA that staged Turrell’s survey a couple of years back.

Biggest phoenix

In August, Melbourne Art Fair made a “come back” pushing the boutique line with a a marquee-style event alongside the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), and encompassing the VCA’s Vault Hall and Riding Hall. It proved to be a winning move and dealers gave the new format the thumbs up. The biennial fair (the oldest art fair in Australia) had what could be described as an institutional hiccup in 2016, when its last edition collapsed after several galleries pulled out of the event.

Filistine and Nova, Mofo 2018; Photo Moorilla Gallery

Biggest move

While the Powerhouse has dominated sector news as the “biggest move”, it has yet to happen. However, in June this year the Tasmanian government committed $1.75 million over the next three years for the relocation of Mona Foma (MoFo) from Hobart to Launceston. Mark Wilsdon, Co-CEO Mona, said: ‘We weren’t interested in putting together a watered down Mona Foma. This funding means we’ll be able to do it, and do it properly.’ It is all about the regional dispersal of inbound visitors to Tasmania.

Biggest turn-around

It has been a long campaign and almost five years since ArtsHub first reported in 2013 that the Newcastle Art Gallery faced a radical staff restructure at the hands of Newcastle City Council (NCC), which resulted in three senior management roles at the museum, gallery and theatre being rolled into one position of ‘Cultural Director’. Viewed as a cost-saving measure, that erroneous decision was turned-around in March this year.  NCC announced the appointment of a Director for Newcastle Art Gallery and a Director for Newcastle Museum – Lauretta Morton and Julie Baird respectively.

Biggest art fair

For its fourth edition – and first as an annual event – Sydney Contemporary attracted 29,000 collectors and art enthusiasts, whilst securing $21 million in artwork sales over its five-day run in September – $5 million up from 2017. Over 80 galleries from more than 30 countries visited Sydney for the 2018 event. The event is constantly diversifying, embracing the philosophy that an art fair is much more than just selling art.

Biggest milestone

There were many anniversaries celebrated in 2018, among them Sydney University’s Power Institute marked its 50th anniversary of teaching and delivering degrees and courses in Fine Arts, Art History, Film Studies, Museum Studies and Art Curating. The Sydney Opera House celebrated its 45th anniversary and the centenary of architect Jørn Utzon’s birth – and also the mid-point in a Decade of Renewal, a $273 million program of building works launched in 2013.

Campbelltown Art Centre turned 30; the Aboriginal Memorial at the National Gallery of Australia celebrated 30-years also; Bundanon Trust celebrated its 25th anniversary – using it to announce a major tour of founder Arthur Boyd’s work in 2019; Desart celebrated 25 years of supporting Aboriginal artists; the National Portrait Gallery celebrated 20 years – making the moment with the commission of 20 new artworks valued at half a million, while another Canberra institution – the Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG) – also celebrated its 20th anniversary. And in Victoria, the TarraWarra Museum of Art celebrated its 15th anniversary this year, Australia’s first private museum founded by patrons Eva Besen AO and Marc Besen AC.

We also want to pay a nod to UAP (Urban Art Projects) the Brisbane-based company that now workshops studios globally. They are specialised fabricators for public artworks and artists commissions. And turned 25 this year, and have grown to employ over 200 staff.

Biggest misspent bucks

In November the federal government announced that it would commit $498M over nine years to the Australian War Memorial for a redevelopment that would see the existing Anzac Hall, designed by Denton Corker Marshall and completed in 2001, demolished and replaced. Described by architect John Denton as a ‘colossal waste’, the announcement came in the wake of many Canberra institutions suffering from “efficiency cuts” over recent years.

The Anzac Hall received the 2005 Sir Zelman Cowan Award for Public Architecture as well as the 2005 Canberra Medallion. The announcement followed the April opening of the $100m Sir John Monash interpretive centre at Villers-Bretonneux in Northern France – an arguably unnecessary museum dedicated to the already duly commemorated 46,000 Australians who died on Europe’s western front during the first world war.

Biggest survey

2018 was a great year for survey exhibitions by Australian artists, with a pretty good gender balance across our state institutions. Outstanding were Patricia Piccinini’s Curious Affection at QAGOMA which opened in March as was promoted as the ‘largest solo by an Australian artist’;  Indigenous artist Tony Albert also presented by QAGOMA but in the Queensland Art Gallery space; a phenomenon debut show by Buxton Contemporary in Melbourne Ronnie van Hout, No one is watching you; also in Melbourne, Del Kathryn Barton’s punchy survey exhibition, The Highway is a Disco at NGV Australia, a strong look at Louise Paramour’s work and later in the year a tribute to Ken Whisson and an early career look at Polly Boland.

In Sydney, the year can’t go by without noting the survey exhibition on Tony Tuckson, and the John Mawurndjul’s survey of bark painting, co-curated by the MCA and AGSA, amd the ever ambitious and superbly delivered Campbelltown Art Centre survey Cinemania: In Pursuit of Venus [Infected] 2015-2017.

Biggest gender re-balance

Three organisations came together in 2018 to create Suspended Moment: The Katthy Cavaliere Fellowship, three $100,000 fellowships granted to female-identifying Australian artists working at the nexus of performance and installation, and to realise an ambitious new work. Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Carriageworks and Mona (Museum of Old and New Art) have partnered to deliver this opportunity.

And in Melbourne, the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) and Her Place Women’s Museum Australia have announced a partnership, supported by the State Government of Victoria, to house a national Women’s Museum at the National Trust property, Clarendon Terrace, in East Melbourne. Her Place, the museum, will link all women’s collections and archives across Australian libraries, museums and universities.

Other activities of note were the ongoing work of the Countess Report, which this year questioned gender bias in the art market, backed by a UTS study that showed that women perform 50% lower at art auctions. The latest iteration of the Stella Count found a 2% decrease in the representation of reviews coverage of women authors; ACCA’s phenomenal exhibition Unfinished Business: Perspectives on art and feminism took a closer look at the gender journey.

Biggest belly-punch

Described as ‘the largest ever showcase of living Australian artists,’ Ballarat’s inaugural Biennale of Australia Art (BOAA) showcased 150 artists across three art villages over 47 days (21 September – 6 November 2018). The event was harshly criticised for its financial over-commitment, poor governance and payment of artists. While social media attacks and commentary around the event was mixed, it was agreed that organisers were too ambitious for a first time project. A lesson for all.

Biggest name

Carriageworks is going to take the gong for this delivering large scale exclusive project by both Katharina Gross – the German artist know from her spray-gun installations – and Nick Cave with his bejewelled mega-installation Until. And Melbourne’s NGV used Julian Opie this summer as its big name drawcard.

Biggest image shift

Railway or train art has undergone a radical injection of love in 2018, with Chris Fox incredible installation Interloop at Sydney’s Wynyard Station, which reconfigured heritage escalators from the 193 and incorporates 244 wooden escalator treads. Hannah Quivilan was commissioned to create the art works for Canberra’s light rail stops; Goulburn artist Tracey Luff was commissioned to make commemorative sculptures at Picton, Moss Vale and Goulburn stations in regional NSW; while Create NSW joined the global Metro Art trend in August calling for expressions of interest by artists to create integrated and/or sculptural artwork, and screen based artworks at each of the seven new Sydney stations. And just this week, Create NSW in partnership with Transport for NSW today announced that visual artist Jamie North has been selected to lead a Newcastle public artwork installation alongside the new light rail in Newcastle with the work Borrowed Landscape.

Biggest blindside

New analysis by the Bureau of Communications and Arts Research (BCAR) released in 2018, showed that cultural and creative activity contributed $111.7 billion to Australia’s economy in 2016-17. The BCAR’s new working paper, Cultural and creative activity in Australia 2008-09 to 2016-17, shows a 30 per cent increase in the value of cultural and creative activity. And a study released in November showed that more international tourists flock to art than wineries, casinos or sport. Mmmm, so how much is returning to the arts sector?

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina