December 11, 2020
by Dafyd Martindale
Half a century ago the South Burnett’s councils began accumulating an art collection that is now so big that just a third of it almost completely fills Wondai’s Regional Art Gallery.
These days, the South Burnett Regional Council operates two regional art galleries, and it invests five figure sums each year into acquisitive art and sculpture competitions that add even more artworks to its collection.
Yet in all this time it seems no one has ever paused to ask a simple question – why?
At the official opening of the Wondai Regional Art Gallery’s final monthly exhibition for 2020, curator Elaine Madill said as far as she was aware no one had ever asked what the purpose of Council’s regional art collection really was.
So she wanted to pose it herself.
This month and next, the Gallery is exhibiting selected works from Council’s collection.
Most of the works have been rarely seen outside Kingaroy – where many are held in storage out of public view – so this exhibition provides a rare chance to view them.
Elaine said selecting works for the exhibition had been challenging and fun but it had also made her reflect on some fundamental questions.
“Should we be collecting works that record our region’s history?” she asked.
“Or should we collect works that are wonderful artworks, whether they were created in our region or not?”
Elaine said there were many possible reasons to build an art collection and she was only posing questions rather than suggesting any answers.
But it was generally true the greatest collections in the world were built by having a clear focus about what they wanted to achieve, and without this it was difficult to put anything of real worth together.
Elaine said another question that had never been asked, as far as she was aware, was whether works put into the collection should always be a part of it, or whether the Council should cull out inferior ones over time and use the funds they raised to purchase superior replacements.
Another very important question was where should the collection live so the public could enjoy it year round?
At present a lot of it was in storage or on the walls of Council offices, where few people – and almost no tourists – ever see it.
And a final question was, how should the collection be managed?
Elaine said she believed the collection had never been comprehensively catalogued, digitised or valued.
So for all anyone knew, some works could have been lost over the years, but without documentation there was no way to tell if this was so.
Elaine concluded by saying that with Council’s renewed focus on the arts and its imminent adoption of an Arts Policy, she was hopeful these questions would be taken up and addressed in the future.
In the meantime, she hoped visitors to the Gallery this summer would enjoy the works on show.
- “Selections From The South Burnett Regional Art Collection” will remain on display at the Wondai Regional Art Gallery from 10:00am to 4:00pm daily (except for Christmas Day) until the end of January. Admission to view the exhibition is free.