The Occasional Address

The Occasional Address
Professor Jaynie Anderson FAHA
Herald Chair of Fine Arts, School of Art
History, Cinema, /Classics and
Archaeology, University of Melbourne
9 March, 2006 Conferring of Degrees, (Arts)
University of Melbourne
If you are graduating this evening with a degree in the humanities, and especially if you
are destined to be that most special person, a conservator, an art historian, or a
museum curator, then you about to engage in a dialogue with the culture of a vibrant
city at a key moment, when there is an extraordinary range of exhibitions and activities
that accompany the Commonwealth Games, ranging from the sensational exhibition of
marine flora and fauna at the Museum of Melbourne to Pissarro at the NGV.
This evening is the first occasion on which we have graduates from the new degree from
the Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation.
Two years ago under the dynamic leadership of Robyn Sloggett, the University of
Melbourne established a new degree, to train conservators for Australia.
It is the only institution of its kind.
Tonight is a very special occasion in which we see a new breed of conservator, hybrid
intellectual personalities, who have significant scientific and conservation skills.
For me conservation laboratories are magical places where I can study works of art in
ideal conditions, up close and personal.
They also have the advantage of revealing much new information.
Conservation plays an increasingly important role in the analysis and interpretation of
works of art.
The analyses made during conservation often reveal a new set of data, about how artists
worked, their techniques and they document the changing compositions worked out on
the surfaces of canvasses.
Acts of conservation are rarely neutral, despite the best intentions, especially in past
The history of conservation, which begins in antiquity, is an increasingly important
subject in art history and archaeology.
One could construct – and I have often dreamt of writing a book on the subject - a
history of art in which interpretation was conditioned by conservation, one which
concentrates on the changing appearances of works of art. Or, to put it another way,
how the critical reception of works of art depends on changing appearances.
The Parthenon is restored to the state of a picturesque ruin, in a form that does not
reflect how it looked at any particular moment in history.
Professor Jaynie Anderson
Graduation address 13 April 2005
Renaissance paintings, which have survived five or 600 years, have often accrued the
additions of earlier restorers, which are sometimes removed and sometimes remain,
frequently in circumstances of controversy.
Early Australian films are frequently restored to a readable state, often with the addition
of music and colour, effecting how we interpret them and presumably adding an
interpretative layer.
Conservation conditions most cultural artefacts that survive.
A significant item on the agenda of most museums is acquisitions.
Both the NGV and the N G. A are about to spend considerable sums of money, millions of
dollars, on new acquisitions, thereby creating a national patrimony and what art
historians will study in the future.
Conservators play an important role in that they use their skills to authenticate works of
art and to determine whether the condition is of sufficient quality to purchase. Much
depends on their opinions.
Melbourne museums present infinite possibilities and play increasingly vital roles in the
teaching and research agendas of universities such as our own.
Over the last 150 years Melbourne has created unique and distinguished collections that
mirror its cultural identity and are waiting to be explored, some parts of the collection
exhibited in new spaces.
In Melbourne we live with the legacy of the 1850’s, when it became fashionable to create
national museums of art, but rarely, whether the collections were in Berlin, London or
Melbourne, did these museums have much to do at that time with the culture of their
own countries.
What is British about the British Museum, one might still ask?
What was national about the National Gallery of Victoria until recently when Federation
Square was opened?
In the 1950’s when the NGV collection, then at the State Library, was displayed,
Australian art was relegated to a few dingy back rooms, while European masterpieces
occupied the major spaces.
Now in the first decade of the 21st Century more of the collections of the National Gallery
are on display than ever before, and some for the first time.
Whatever you may make of the gift-wrapped exterior architecture of Federation Square,
the museum has attracted many millions of visitors, and the interior spaces are
dedicated to the first substantial overview of Australian art in the history of any
Melbourne institution.
Indigenous art is integrated into the displays as never before in a collection that has
largely been created by one of our graduates, Judith Ryan, who began studying
eighteenth century British painting with Joe Burke in the 1960’s.
Her newest exhibition, Land Marks, celebrates the diversity of iconographic traditions in
indigenous culture.
University of Melbourne
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Professor Jaynie Anderson
Graduation address 13 April 2005
At the NGV on St Kilda Road, where Mario Bellini has refurbished the interior, the
European collection receives a dignified and captivating presentation.
The 1960’s building by Roy Grounds was distinctly unfriendly to works of art.
At one stage Grounds - following Frank Lloyd Wright and the Guggenheim Museum in
New York - conceived of the interiors as having large spaces, enormous wells between
the spectators and the works of art, a scheme that was fortunately rejected.
The alliance between art history and conservation is an important one which I hope will
grow and develop.
One of the first ARC grants that I applied for together with Robyn Sloggett and
colleagues from museums and universities was a RIEF grant in 1999.
The results of this grant which supplied infra red video machines by Hamamatsu to many
Australian museums and university collections has resulted in an important publication
on underdrawing, launched today by the Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation.
May I conclude by wishing the new degree very great success as it is a subject that is
deeply important for Australia’s patrimony.
University of Melbourne
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