Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog

75 Years: Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery

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Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery Panorama

Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery, the oldest regional art gallery in Queensland, this month celebrated its 75th year of operation. When we consider that Queensland only recently celebrated its sesquicentennial therefore the gallery is half the age of Queensland itself! Other interesting dates; the Toowoomba region was settled in the 1840s and was proclaimed a city in 1904 The Toowoomba Show Society recently achieved a milestone of 142 years of shows in agriculture and industry and the Empire theatre celebrated its 100th birthday last year. It seems that the Toowoomba region was well and truly fired up as a community and perhaps overdue for an art gallery that was finally established in 1937.

The records show that various Governors of Queensland were associated with TRAG over the years and this association continues to this day with the current Governor Her Excellency Ms Penelope Wensley opening the 75th exhibition on July 2, 2012. In an impressively researched speech Governor Wensley recounted newspaper reports of the day relating to the gallery’s foundation. The 75th opening was attended by around 100 members of the local community including Mayor Paul Antonio, various councillors and members of the trustees or families of significant donors to the gallery.

Gallery Curator Di Baker with Governor Wensley discussing artworks

The exhibition features 75 individual artworks from the gallery’s collection—one for each of the 75 years. Standing in the middle of the main exhibition area one sees a diverse range of visual material. Paintings of bygone and contemporary eras by some very prominent artists, there are ceramics, fine jewellery (from the gallery’s principle collection media—contemporary wearables), and finally photographs and prints complete the veritable visual cornucopia on show. When I came to testing my recollection of the artwork’s titles and artists I was stumped, as the artwork didactics bore none of that information. This presented some confusion until I became aware the curatorial strategy for the show. The 75 works were selected on the basis of the year and the work’s conceptual connection with significant social, political or historical aspects of that year. The key to the sometimes quirky and idiosyncratic curatorial selection is the exhibition catalogue in which the rationale for the selection is linked with the title, media and the artist’s name.

While at first this seems a little strange my reflection on the concept confirms, for me at least, that the strategy is conceptually stimulating. The usual gallery exhibition is about artists and their art—this show IS about the gallery, its PLACE in the community and TIME, or rather the passage of time—75 years in fact. In this exhibition the gallery then assumes the position of ‘artist’ and were the ‘artwork’ is the curatorial team’s strategy.

Doyen of Toowoomba’s photo scene Graham Burstow with a Max Dupain photograph in the exhibition

Bravo to the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery and the team for bringing to us an exhibition featuring the gems of art from its collection that can tell these multiple stories. One, which is about the assiduous collection by the gallery of art stimulated by and/or created by the regional community. And secondly, this show provides recognition of significant art from outside Toowoomba that has been generously donated by benefactors over the years. Through the gallery display of these artworks the local community is able to connect with these wonderful touchstones of artists’ creative practice.

A visit to TRAG to see this show will require much more engagement than usual walk-through, so do plan for extended visits while the 75th year celebration show is on.

SEE more info Toowoomba Regional Council website

Doug Spowart  8 July 2012

Doug next to his photograph of Ruthven Street selected for the exhibition

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