New gallery makes space for Sidney Nolan

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“The Rite of Spring”, by Sidney Nolan, fabric dye and oil stick crayon on paper, c.1962.

CANBERRA Museum & Gallery has a new Sidney Nolan acquisition and a new space to show it in.

The newly-purchased work is a painting for the staging of “The Rite of Spring”, by Stravinsky, for the Royal Ballet, 1962, at Covent Garden, commissioned by director Kenneth MacMillan.

The work is exhibited in Gallery 5, a capacious space on the first floor of CMAG, as part of “Threads and Connections”, which CMAG’s acting director Sophie Chessell described as “a thoughtful reinterpretation” exploring how Nolan drew themes and imagery from earlier works into his later practice.

Minister Ramsay and Sophie Chessell with Nolan artworks

Alongside the artist’s works, the new display features photographs and original text following Nolan’s personal and creative journey from a St Kilda boy to a sophisticated artist.

The Nolan Collection is a representative group of paintings from 1945 to 1953 by Sidney Nolan, gifted to the nation by the artist in 1974 and previously exhibited in the Nolan Gallery at Tharwa until bush fires ravaged the surrounds and put the paintings in jeopardy. The collection is now managed by CMAG on behalf of the Australian Government.

ACT Arts Minister Gordon Ramsay, in launching the new gallery, said: “There’s something about the landscapes that leaps out at you.”

He told those present that upgrading of climate control in the new venue had been made possible by ACT capital funding, while the Commonwealth Government had supported the reglazing of paintings in the collection.

He sketched the artist’s career, his generosity and his love of other arts form like opera and ballet.

“The arts are all combined aren’t they?” said Mr Ramsay.

Minister Ramsay meets Ainslie Primary School Year 1 pupils

Mr Ramsay also launched the Young Nolan Project, a changing display that will present works made by young people during CMAG’s learning programs, co-ordinated by learning and access officer Kaye Whitney.

First up are the drawings, collages, ink resist works and mono prints made in response to Nolan’s work by Year 1 students from Ainslie Primary School, who were on hand to meet the minister and present him with a “Ned Kelly” artwork.

To highlight the new dedicated gallery space, a series of conversations will be held at CMAG.

Senior curator Virginia Rigney will be in conversation with the curator for the estate of Lady Nolan, Mark Fraser, from 1pm–2pm, Monday, August 19. Free, bookings not required.

Dr Paula Dredge, head of paintings conservation at the Art Gallery of NSW, shares her research on Sidney Nolan’s innovative use of household paint in the mid-1940s and the use of analytical science to reveal hidden paintings and new insights into the artist’s process. From 5.30pm–6.30pm, Thursday, September 12. Free, but bookings essential at

A Mandarin language tour with Join Mengqi Zhou, ANU art historian and curatorship intern, will explore the new exhibition at CMAG from a Chinese perspective. From 1pm–2pm, Thursday, October 3. Free, bookings not required.




















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Helen Musa
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