Friday, May 9, 2014

Behind the Scenes of The Gallery

Last year I decided to join Newcastle Art Gallery Society. For a small fee, you get discounts on selected gallery shows etc, and invites to interesting events amongst other things. Plus it made me feel like I was somehow helping an institution I loved and believed in, at their time of need. I grew up with this gallery, trips into The Civic with my grandparents was always thrilling when I was younger. We would go to the ballet at The Civic Theatre, visit Him and Her at the library, wander in the park and watch the fountain, and of course go to The Art Gallery. As I got old I still did all those things and incorporated visits to my beloved Cooks Hill Books, Darby Street, and surrounds.  
New members are lucky enough to be invited to a behind the scenes tour, and I took up the offer today. I met a few others at the entrance of the gallery and we were joined by Prue, who was to be a powerhouse of love and information about the gallery. We went through secret doors to the left of the building and were inside the beast. I was thrilled beyond imagination.
I wished I had taken notes and had the guts to ask to take photos, but I simply didn't think of the first and it seemed wrong to ask the later. We met staff and wandered about both levels of the gallery, led and informed by Prue. We heard the history of the gallery, built in 1977 and opened by Queen Elizabeth. It must have been the most remarkable thing. I did wonder if my grandmother or even I was there, I must find out. My grandmother adored the royals, so surely we had to be there?

And it is a great building, a great space, but the collection is vast, and there is simply nowhere near enough room to showcase this I was about to find out. Most galleries and museums never have all or indeed even half their collection out on display at a time, which seems a shame, but to continually evolve and develop a worthy collection, displaying everything is impossible. But when you see the depths of how much they do not display at Newcastle, you can see how desperately they need more space. I don't want to go into the travesty of why this isn't happening here, that isn't just another blog or two but a very long book/essay/saga that the most devastating story in the world doesn't seem to match.
And so we got to look at some of the vaults, large hanging spaces with a few inches between, and each rack pulled out to expose multitudes of art on both sides. We got to see a few racks and the most fabulous pieces within. And then we got to see their special vault, this includes the big pieces. These are pieces that should be on display permanently. One rack was pulled out and there within 20cm of my eye was The Strapper by William Dobell! I gasped and tears came to my eyes. Of course I had seen it before, but to see such a magnificent piece hidden away like that made me realise how utterly shameful the gallery has been treated. Of course beyond that rack was another favourite, Whiteley's Summer at Carcoar. There are no words.

We also got a glimpse of the ceramics room, the gallery has the largest collection of ceramics in the Southern Hemisphere. All those items stored in lovely boxes with photos of the item on the outside. And as a Librarian I was thrilled to see the multitude of folders containing catalogued information on each piece in the collection...the folders of provenance. 

I don't know what is going to happen to my beloved gallery next, hopefully something positive. But please go and visit it regularly, appreciate it, and love it. 

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