Early beginnings 1950s –1970s
In the early days of The University of New South Wales Sir Phillip Baxter, the first Vice Chancellor, recognised the importance of incorporating art into the built environment to lift the spirit and to enhance campus life. The UNSW Art Collection marks its beginnings in 1955 with the installation of the first major sculpture, The falconer by Tom Bass for the University's first permanent building.
Emanuel Phillips Fox
In keeping with Baxter's vision other major commissions followed: the Douglas Annand mosaics (1958) for the Dalton Building; Tom Bass's electrolytic copper Fountain figure (1959) in the Chancellor's Court; and Bert Flugelman's bronze Untitled figure group (1964) in the courtyard of the Sulman Award-winning Goldstein Hall. This tradition of art in public spaces has continued at UNSW, which now hosts 16 pieces of permanent public sculpture on Kensington campus.
Paintings and prints for the interior spaces were acquired from 1956. The earliest works were in the landscape tradition as well as figurative and still life genres, some notable pieces being by artists such as Emanuel Phillips Fox, George Lambert, Rupert Bunny, Margaret Olley, Eric Smith and Donald Friend.
During the 1960s and 1970s the University, with advice from its Fine Arts Sub-Committee, continued to acquire works on paper and paintings. The focus was on Australian artists, particularly from Sydney, such as Jean Appleton, Tom Green and Elizabeth Rooney whose works were purchased from the Sydney Printmakers annual shows, as well as Janet Dawson, Colin Lanceley, Robert Dickerson, Tom Gleghorn, John Passmore and Margot Lewers.
First sponsors: the U Committee
Maquette for Aspects
from time (1980) - detail
The U Committee (1963-2013) was an ardent supporter of cultural activities within the University and made many generous financial contributions towards the purchase of major works for the Art Collection.
Some of the U Committee's cultural activities included initiating and organising the UNSW Travelling Art Scholarship (1979 - 1981) and later the biennial invitational Art Purchase Exhibition (1983 - 1987), from which were acquired significant paintings by prominent Australian artists such as Kevin Connor, Elwyn Lynn, Fred Cress, John Firth Smith, Ann Thomson, Joe Furlonger and Frank Hodgkinson.
During the early 1990s the U Committee sponsored the acquisition of sculptures by Ron Robertson- Swann, Jock Clutterbuck, James Rogers and Bruce Armstrong. These works were placed within newly created landscaping and their addition helped form the Sculpture Walk, launched for the University's 50th Anniversary in 1999.
When the UNSW Sculpture Commission Competition was initiated in 2000, to acquire site-specific works of art for important precincts, the U Committee helped again. The inaugural winner was Bronwyn Oliver, whose iconic Globe enhances International Square on The Mall. In 2006 the second competition was won by Kate Cullity's landscape installation, Seeing the wood for the trees, which was designed to form the Sir Anthony Mason Garden, adjacent to the Law Building on The Mall.
Generous donors: the Collection grows
Elmira pink (1976)
In addition to the U Committee's financial support, the Art Collection's holdings have been enriched by gifts of art from generous donors.
Over the years works by important Australian artists such as Sidney Nolan, Roland Wakelin, Weaver Hawkins, Ray Crooke, Lloyd Rees, Sydney Ball and Rosalie Gascoigne have been donated by a variety of collectors; prominent artists Nicholas Harding, Janet Laurence, Alun Leach Jones, Elwyn Lynn and Aida Tomescu have gifted their work to enhance further the Collection's quality and depth of representation; and the impressive collection of 120 bark paintings from North East, North West and Central Arnhem Land is the result of presentations made through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
A special thanks is extended to all our donors for their support and interest in the Collection.
Official portraits: past and present personalities
The Hon. G. J. Samuels (1978)
The commissioned portrait is the traditional form of recording the holders of the University's highest offices: Chancellor and Vice Chancellor. The UNSW portrait collection contains works by established painters of this genre, many of whom have won the prestigious Archibald Prize: Ivor Hele, Henry Hanke, Judy Cassab, William Pigeon, Clifton Pugh, Brian Dunlop, Francis Giacco, Lewis Miller and Nicholas Harding.
Amalgamations: new additions
Gloria Tamerre Petyarre
Untitled (leaves) (1995)
On 1 January 1990 the St George Institute of the Sydney CAE and the City Art Institute of the NSW Institute of the Arts amalgamated with UNSW. Both these institutions shared a common history with the Alexander Mackie College (1970-1975) and brought with them their own diverse art collections.
The majority of the new works entered the UNSW Art Collection and made welcome additions. Their inclusion helped broaden the Collection's artistic base by introducing new artists and where artists were already held, their representation was strengthened.
New Directions: a university perspective
UNSW's Museums and Collections Policy was formulated in response to recommendations made in Cinderella Collections, the University Museums Review Committee 1996 Report to the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee. The UNSW Art Collection's acquisition strategy was devised at this time and the bi-annual sculpture maintenance programme was also established. A desire to provide greater access to the Collection saw the Sculpture Walk commence in 1999 and the on-line catalogue launched in 2002.
The UNSW Art Collection's focus is Australian art from 1949 - the University's foundation year - by Australian artists with a recognised history of practice. Acquiring works that relate to the many areas of interest encountered at UNSW ensures the Collection maintains a university perspective.
The Art Collection enriches the university experience by enhancing the everyday environment for students, staff and visitors and by providing opportunities for engagement with cultural material. In this way, the UNSW Art Collection's mission continues Sir Philip Baxter's vision.