Sydney Modern Project
‘Architecture signifies permanence. It announces the desire to stay’
Robert Hughes ‘The Fatal Shore’
Hughes was referring to the struggles encountered by Arthur Phillip in convincing others to share his dream of constructing a colony of free immigrant settlers. To literally construct a colony from nothing. It was the late eighteenth century. Wellington’s victory at Waterloo was two decades away, and to the British, Australia was little more than an idea. Move forward 150 years. Disgruntled artists challenged William Dobell’s 1943 Archibald Prize winning portrait of Joshua Smith on the basis that it was ‘caricature’ not ‘portraiture’ and Australians witnessed a seminal moment in their cultural evolution. The passion and rigour in the ensuing debate in a community engulfed and distracted by World War 2 laid a cornerstone for the vibrancy that is the Australian art world today. The outcome of the subsequent court case was largely irrelevant. The fact was that Australians cared about art – cared to debate it, argue about it, fight for it, cry for and believe in it. The Art Gallery of New South Wales hosted this critical debate (as it has countless others). As an institution it remains embedded at the cultural core of most Australians and represents far more than just an art collection. It is the manifestation of triumph over adversity that was encountered first by Phillip and later conquered by Macquarie.
The Art Gallery of New South Wales symbolises the permanence of a nation. To touch it at all requires the utmost sensitivity. Expectations are high. This project is about protecting the gallery’s history and preserving its future. Art in the 21st century places far greater demands on gallery space. Then, we had paintings in frames or sculptures on pedestals. Now we have light, sound, performance, digital, moving image, installation, pop up and so on as well as all of the traditional media. Now art is encountered, not simply viewed. Preserving the gallery’s future means enabling these encounters with art displayed on no more than two clearly organised, logical levels of state of the art, highly flexible and adaptable gallery spaces - spaces that can be properly serviced and accessed by cutting edge back of house facilities.
The myth of Australian architecture lies in the bush, the outback, the desert, the lean to, the Tree of Man, the bush mechanic. It lies in wit and resourcefulness born out of the tyranny of distance. It is gathered and scratched and raw. It is the sunroom, the verandah, the sleep out. It is place making in the harshest of circumstances. It is shade and shelter and texture and terrain. It is relief. It is timeless and it is of the earth. These are the qualities that I will to bring to this project.