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IT is a sad time for the decorative arts in Australia with news that the senior curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the National Gallery of Australia, Dr Robert Bell, is leaving his post today.Dr Bell previously served for 11 years at the Western Australian Museum, 22 years at the Art Gallery of WA and has spent the last 16 years at the National Gallery. He was responsible for contributing to policy, collections, exhibitions and research programs in Australian and international decorative and applied arts, crafts and design. He’s also responsible of the collection of over 12,000 works in contemporary and historical ceramics, glass, textiles, metalwork, jewellery, furniture, industrial design, costume and theatre arts.
While at the NGA, he has overseen the craft and object art components of at least 18 majors exhibitions, including the 2010 show, “Ballets Russes: The art of costume” which later travelled to the National Art Center Tokyo, “Contemporary Australian Decorative Arts and Design” in 2004 and “Japan and Australia: A Dialogue in Ceramics” in 1999.
It is understood that with recent restructuring at the gallery, his position has been made surplus to requirements. It is believed assistant curator Beatrice Thompson will hold the fort until she is transferred to another job, probably in Asian Art, with a direction to keep an eye on the decorative arts.
There is an ironic touch in the fact that Dr Bell’s departure comes on the eve of the Gallery’s “Versailles: Treasures from the Palace” blockbuster, which is very strong in the area of the decorative arts, with Queen Marie Antoinette’s hand-crafted chair and harp, the golden reliquary which belonged to Louis XIV’s mother and six-metre tapestries produced for Louis XIV on show.
Dr Bell will retire in Canberra, where he plans to be involved in projects in the future and says he will be “a constant visitor and supporter of the Gallery”.