Dr Radford also confirmed the gallery’s commitment to staging blockbuster, international exhibitions in Canberra to give Australians the opportunity to see the best international art without having to travel overseas.
Speaking on the eve of the gallery’s 30th anniversary, Dr Radford outlined the institution’s achievements over the last three decades, which have resulted in building the largest and most valuable collection of art for the Australian nation.
“The National Gallery of Australia is still the world’s youngest national art gallery and yet, in its short history, the institution has developed the national art collection to more than 165,000 works of art, now valued at more than $4.7 billion,” he said.
Dr Radford said that now time to look to the future of the gallery and the ways in which access to its collection could be expanded in the future. He confirmed the gallery’s vision to build Stage Two –The Centre for Australian Art, which will follow the successful delivery of the Stage One Building Redevelopment that opened two years ago.
“The gallery now holds more than 165,000 works — more than twice the number in the next largest State gallery collection,” he said.
“Valued at $4.7 billion, the National Art Collection is also by far the most valuable art collection in Australia. Indeed, it is the single-most valuable asset in the national capital.
“It is no secret that most art galleries around the world have more works in storage than on display. However, of all the collections in Australia, the National Gallery of Australia has by far the greatest proportion of its collection in storage. Only two per cent of the collection is on display.
“Fortunately, new digital technology will help make the collection more accessible. Our aim is to put online digital images of all the 165,000 works in the collection, to be seen in classrooms, in every home, indeed, anyplace, anywhere with internet access. We aim to digitise 18,000 works a year. This annual goal is greater than the number of works in each of four State art collections. It is an ambitious project.
“We have already more than 60,000 works available online but there is a long way to go!
“We are seeking extra funding to achieve this and our other ambitious digital initiatives, which are extensions of our comprehensive access and learning program.
The National Gallery of Australia is now well known for its dynamic exhibitions. It is especially known around Australia and the world for international blockbusters, which began towards the end of James Mollison’s directorship in the mid 1980s, and gathered momentum in Betty Churcher’s time from the early 1990s.
“Increased costs, difficulties of international loans and Canberra’s small population caused a lull in our blockbuster exhibitions in the early 2000s. And it was rightly thought they were too financially risky to stage. But in recent years, the gallery has adventurously scheduled regular summer blockbusters and we intend to increase the number next year for the Centenary of Canberra.
“Canberra and the National Gallery have become known for these international blockbuster exhibitions. They are now expected. A recent survey conducted by the ACT Government showed that they were the prime reason Australians visit Canberra in summer and autumn.
“Our ‘Masterpieces from Paris’ exhibition of 2010 still holds the national record for art exhibition attendance, with nearly 500,000 visitors in four months. And it is true that of the top 15 best-attended art exhibitions in Australia’s history, five were held at the National Gallery of Australia in lil’ ol’ Canberra.
“Canberra’s population of approximately 350,000 is too small to be sole supporters of the cost of staging blockbuster exhibitions. Visitors must and do come from all over Australia. Indeed, they account for nearly 80 per cent of the audiences for these exhibitions.
“It has been estimated that the National Gallery’s seven blockbuster shows of the past seven years have brought $300 million to the local economy.”
The 30th anniversary of the opening of the National Gallery of Australia is on Friday, October 12.