Great artworks sometimes seem like they reside in galleries, as we do houses. But in its touring program Freighting Ideas, the Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA) is sending its artworks on an ambassadorial tour throughout Western Australia to near and distant regional galleries.
For the exhibition’s first circuit, curator Robert Cook shipped 12 significant photographs “on the road to meet new people.” Now, in its second iteration Freighting Ideas: There were Moments of Transformation, over 40 three-dimensional objects, selected by curator Melissa Harpley, will traverse a route including seven regional galleries. “What happens when you take an artwork out of that central institution?” she asks. “It leaves the big house in the city and people encounter it in a familiar, local space. This encourages comfort, connection.”
In collaboration with veteran touring outfit ART ON THE MOVE, Freighting Ideas is a well-oiled caravan. “It’s interesting to learn about the labour behind the tour,” says Cook. Cratemakers custom-build boxes to snugly fit each work, insulated and waterproofed. Conservators and installers report on artwork condition at every stage. “The whole journey from packed to unpacked is considered, from chocking, to handling, to which gloves to wear.”
In regional galleries where collections and resources are more modest, Freighting Ideas: There were Moments of Transformation provides a valuable experience of working with 3D art objects. “The project has a professional development dimension,” explains Harpley. “The objects bring with them the need to learn about light levels, display systems, packing and the robustness of the materials used. A lot of collections in WA were set up in the 1950s with donations by philanthropist and collector Claude Hotchin (1898-1977), so they contain a lot of traditional works: watercolours, landscapes. This exhibition will show a great range of artistic practices.”
The slice of AGWA’s collection in There were Moments of Transformation is designed to reveal the breadth of its holdings and to encourage audiences to build emotive connections between works. Displayed in a series of moveable vitrines and showcases, the exhibition “has no particular order and will have a different permutation in every gallery.” Viewers will make their own pathways and encounter “unexpected groupings, which are intended as a provocation,” says Harpley.
One such showcase contains Renoir’s 1915 bronze bust of Venus, paired with Necklace of tears for Dora Maar, 1996, by British jeweller Wendy Ramshaw. “It’s an evocative starting point,” says Harpley. “The necklace helps to move the Renoir beyond the classical. We might think about the figure wearing the necklace: who is she and what are her experiences?”
Accompanying the artworks is another Perth institution: Famous Sharron. As public ambassador, she mingles through each public event in a whirl of auburn bouffant and beaded sleeve, effervescing her “sweetie-darling” persona. “It’s fascinating to watch her do her thing,” says Cook. “She names the elephant in the room, asks the obvious questions and really makes people feel at ease and empowered in their responses.”
The value of touring is not merely the servicing of regional culture or the convenience of proximity. Touring shows that art is something close and participatory, not elsewhere or city bound. “The objects are on tour in order to spark something, perhaps an art practice or a sense of connection,” Harpley explains. “We want to show that there are no right or wrong ways to engage: art is a living thing.”
Freighting Ideas: There were Moments of Transformation
Albany Town Hall Gallery
3 July – 14 August 2021
Bunbury Regional Art Gallery
27 November – 6 March 2022
An earlier version of this article was published by Art Guide Australia online in 2020.