South Burnett Mayor Brett Otto, artist Robyn Dower, Wondai Regional Art Gallery curator Elaine Madill and patron Ros Heit admire a Wondai streetscape painted by David Bryce about 40 years ago that is now part of the Council’s Regional Art Collection

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.
Wondai Gallery curator Elaine Madill with three portraits executed by Hungarian-born artist Jozsef Balogh, who died at Murgon in 1990 … a number of his works are now part of the region’s permanent collection
Gallery patron Ros Heit admires a Garry Eyre acrylic of a Bunya Mountains forest track, which was acquired for the collection several years ago

* * *

Some Other Works From The Regional Collection

A detail from “Sold Up, Moving On” by Hivesville artist Shannus O’Sullivan

A detail from “The Teacher” by Maureen Meggitt-Lorne

A detail from an untitled print by artist Hugh Sawrey
“Tingoora”, an oil painted by artist D. Andersen, shows the town as it once looked
A detail from “Cross Country”, an oil by Adrienne Dietrich
A detail from “Gums On The Bungle Bungles” by Marion Marshall
A view of Scott Street, Wondai in the 1970s looking up towards the CBD by Kingaroy artist David Bryce, painted before the construction of the roundabout

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2 Responses to "Exhibition Raises Art Questions"

  1. Julie Berry  December 12, 2020

    What an interesting and enjoyable story, plus I loved every painting displayed. I cannot understand why anything, particularly artwork, should be kept in storage and would like to suggest that Council’s impressive art collection be displayed all year round at perhaps the libraries and Visitor Information Centres where residents and tourists are able to view and appreciate them.

  2. Fran van Vegchel  December 14, 2020

    There are some statements in this article which I would like to correct.

    The bulk of the present exhibition being held in the Wondai Regional Art Gallery was on display at the Kingaroy Regional Art Gallery in August this year.

    The Kingaroy Regional Art Gallery, as part of an understanding with the South Burnett Regional Council, undertakes responsibility to display items from the collection on a regular basis. This has been done since 2015 when Kingaroy Arts Team was founded.

    There has been – and will always be – ample opportunity for the local community and visitors alike to view the collection.

    It is untrue to give the impression the collection remains largely in permanent storage. Items from the collection have been on display in the council offices and libraries for some years. That some items are in the offices of the council for the appreciation of the people employed with council seems reasonable, and although regular circulation hasn’t happened there is always room for improvement for any system of exchange.

    There are a number of other questions and views this article has put forward that do need attention.

    Properly thought out, intelligent researched documentation on the nature of collections, their purpose, related systems of management and how to best put these into practice for the South Burnett is the correct way for the future.

    Fran van Vegchel
    Kingaroy Arts Team
    Kingaroy Regional Art Gallery


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