Brisbane Consortium for the Visual Arts: Advancing Arts Research in Queensland

Queensland’s academics in art history and theory have long enjoyed a close relationship with the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, actively engaging with its exhibitions and collection in their research and teaching and regularly contributing to the Gallery’s extensive public engagement and education programs. Similarly, staff of QAGOMA have always been generous in giving their time for guest lectures, mentoring and assessing students, and attending student artists’ exhibitions. The Gallery’s curatorial internships have also accelerated many careers while contributing to the round of exhibition research and development that is the daily activity of the Gallery and its staff. It’s a supportive network that sees the QAGOMA play an important role in the education of artists and arts professionals in the State and that recognises the enduring value that scholarly enquiry can add to the work of the Gallery and its service to culture in Queensland.

In an Australian first, the Gallery is now extending and enhancing these relationships with a formal structure for collaboration that draws together three leading Queensland universities — Griffith University, Queensland University of Technology and the University of Queensland — in order to develop innovative scholarly and curatorial dialogues in arts research and teaching.  Known as the Brisbane Consortium for the Visual Arts (BCVA), this relationship will enable more ambitious collaborative projects and more effective planning of these activities. The research capacity and qualifications framework of the universities will enable the development of long-term relationships that will last beyond the duration of individual exhibitions or projects. It will also provide an agenda for academics to more systematically research QAGOMA’s rich collection.

BCVA will mount student and professional research seminars and conferences and host expert visitors in a program that will complement the Gallery’s public education programs and extend learning and teaching opportunities for tertiary students from undergraduate to doctoral level while also supporting the career development of the Gallery’s curatorial staff. Each University will draw on the content provided by BCVA for their own degree programmes and research agendas.  Through these initiatives, BCVA will strengthen connections between the Gallery and the academic community of Brisbane and establish a more effective framework for enhancing the research and training of art students and professionals. Beyond this, it aims to make the intellectual resources of Brisbane’s visual arts scene more visible on a national and international stage.

Despite the current incentives for universities to compete, the Consortium’s partner universities have realised the potential in collaborating with QAGOMA to grow the reputation of Brisbane as a city of excellence in the visual arts. Each University has made a generous commitment to the project in the form of a postgraduate scholarship for a PhD student.

Those three scholarships are now open for applications and are a fitting way to signal the collaboration and begin its work in research training.

The idea for the consortium was formulated in discussion between Professor Andrew McNamara (QUT), Associate Professor Rex Butler (UQ) and myself (GU). We realised the need for a common platform for talking to the Gallery as we considered how best to engage students with the Gallery’s collection and exhibitions, particularly the APT, as well as direct our own research towards collaborative projects. This discussion coincided with my current partnership with QAGOMA to curate Australia’s first major exhibition of the work of German artist Gerhard Richter, scheduled for QAGOMA in October 2017. I have been interested in Richter’s art for over 20 years. My doctorate considered what his work demonstrates about the relationship between painting and photography and the impact of that upon contemporary understandings of medium in art. This research has been well received and has informed my teaching at the Queensland College of Art. However, I could never have thought to attempt to bring Richter’s work to the attention of the Australian public without the curatorial expertise of QAGOMA, its skilled exhibitions management, and Director Chris Saines’ enthusiasm for and faith in the project.  

While the BCVA is a first for Australia, it accords with an international convergence of major art museums and universities around research and training in the visuals arts. For example, the Museum Research Consortium was announced by New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 2013.  Glenn Lowry, Director of MoMA, stated, “As educational and research institutions, museums have a key role to play in developing and training the next generation of art historians and curators.”  

The Brisbane Consortium recognises a necessary shift in the role of art museums and galleries: that is, to go beyond familiar ideas of public education in art appreciation to providing intellectual leadership in actively negotiating the role of the visual arts in society.  

Dr Rosemary Hawker