AS a 30th birthday present to Australia’s Parliament House, Canberra Museum and Gallery has partnered with the “house on the hill” and the National Archives of Australia to present an unusual exhibition.
Formally launched by journalist Annabel Crabb, “Crafting the house on the hill: art, design and the building of Australian Parliament House” takes a close and personal look at the way artisans, artist and craftspeople interacted with the creators of Parliament House. All were under the watchful eye of art consultant and architect, Pamille Berg, who had come to Australia from the US with Romaldo Giurgola and the architecture team who designed it.
Berg was just one of the key figures on hand for the opening.
Justine van Mourik, director of the Parliament House art collection, who with CMAG senior curator Mark Bayly has put the show together, said one of the works being installed at CMAG, a six-metre long painted version of the Arthur Boyd work turned into a tapestry for the Great Hall, has not left Parliament House in its 30 years.
CMAG director Shane Breynard proudly showed off work, placing special emphasis on the inclusion of works by Canberra creators, textile artist Amenomori-Schmeisser, master cabinetmaker George Ingham, whose cabinet is part of CMAG’s own collection and painter Mandy Martin, whose massive work “Red Ochre Cove” was commissioned for the main committee room of Parliament House. That work was not on display, but a sketch owned by the artist’s son Alexander Boynes was.
Benches crafted in 1987 by Leon Sadubin had been temporarily removed from Parliament House to the CMAG, from which visitors could view the show, which ranges over many media—painting, ceramics, sculpture, metal and the celebrated marquetry of Michael Retter, represented in photos and sketches rather than the final work, hard to detach.
Equally hard to detach would have been the bronze “Mingarri: The Little Olgas” in the executive forecourt of Parliament House, commissioned from Marea Gazzard, who is shown in photographs making the work.
Giurgola’s fine sketches of his vision of the finished House are there, remarkably like the real thing, and so is a large model from his firm Mitchell, Giurgola and Thorpe, normally on display at the National Archives.
Perhaps most exciting to Breynard, a photographic artist himself, were the images, artworks in themselves, of the process, created 24 artists were commissioned under the Parliament House Photography Project, 1984-86, to document the process.
The largest is a wall-length installation by Grace Cochrane, the former senior curator of Australian decorative arts and design at the Powerhouse Museum and another of the guests on hand to say Happy Birthday to the House.
“Crafting the house on the hill: art, design and the building of Australian Parliament House”, Canberra Museum and Gallery, Civic Square, July 7 to November 4. Free floor talk, 2pm-3pm, Saturday, July 7.