The National Gallery’s Touring Program has been delivering exhibitions drawn from the national collection since 1988. The statistics are impressive: almost 12 million people have attended touring exhibitions and seen 10,000 works from the national collection in 130 exhibitions at 1,666 locations, nationally and internationally during this time.
This year six Touring Exhibitions travelled the country, with a program that prioritised regional and remote communities. The Ned Kelly series continued its all-state and territory tour visiting the Cairns Regional Gallery and the Tweed Regional Gallery in Murwillimbah, Art Deco finished its successful four-venue tour at the Hazelhurst Arts Centre in Gymea and Body Language opened at Lismore Regional Gallery in August 2020 before travelling on to the Museum of Art and Culture Lake Macquarie and finishing at the Horsham Regional Art Gallery in May. Despite several pandemic-related cancellations in the early part of the reporting period, Terminus opened at Murray Bridge Regional Gallery and Maitland Regional Art Gallery. The 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial, Defying Empire, concluded its national tour at the Australian National Maritime Museum. And in April, Skywhales: Every heart sings commenced its major national to tour at the Murray Art Museum in Albury, thanks to National Touring Partner the Naomi Milgrom Foundation.
One of our key Touring programs, the National Gallery Art Cases, was also refurbished and expanded with the support of the Neilson Foundation. Initially established in 1988 with funding from the Wolfensohn Foundation, the original three cases have been joined by two more, enabling five Art Cases containing works of art to travel to libraries, galleries, schools and community centres across Australia.
Uniquely, all the works of art contained within the brightly coloured cases can be held and touched by participants. Far from the confines of gallery walls and high plinths, this rare hands-on experience provides audiences with a new perspective on art. Over the years, tour venues have creatively incorporated the Cases into their programming on- and off-site, using them for object-based learning, storytelling and artmaking.
The new suite of Art Cases includes additional works, new themes and revised supporting material and is grouped into five broad themes – Bodies; Land and Country; Form and Education; Earth; and Past, Present, Future – bringing works of art into generative conversations with one another and providing pathways of interpretation for audiences. The themes developed out of the existing works and informed the acquisition of new works as we continue to draw out new stories and connections between objects that span centuries.
The ‘Bodies’ Art Case brings together works that look at the lived experience of biology, of flesh and blood and the ways in which our bodies influence memory, space and form. ‘Land and Country’ includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists exploring their profound connection to Country and the diverse practices undertaken by First Nations people to care for our vital ecosystems. Encompassing objects with functional uses, including light sources and a pepper grinder, ‘Form and Function’ explores the line between art and design. In a time of ecological catastrophe, ‘Earth’ brings together artists who reflect on the importance of the natural world and our place within it, while ‘Past, Present, Future’ explores the complex and interwoven histories that inform this place and imagines what could come to pass. The Art Cases feature works of art that respond to these themes by some of Australia’s leading contemporary artists. For example, Wiradjuri arist Karla Dickens’s Block and tackle explores the impacts of ongoing colonisation on the bodily experience of Aboriginal people, while Angela Valamanesh’s biological forms encourage us to consider our relationship with the natural world.
The National Gallery tours many different types of exhibitions annually, including exhibitions of works on paper and canvas by key Australian and International artists, contemporary First Nations works, photography, and sculpture each with their own individual requirements. They come as a package, complete with all display requirements, written and online educational material and public programming support. National Gallery staff visit and assist with all installations, providing a fertile base for enhancing the close professional relationships that the National Gallery enjoys with its stakeholder venues. In turn these relationships provide the opportunity to develop skills, provide professional development and respond to venue needs where relevant to better enable access to the national collection.