17/05/2018 - 14:37

$17m of AGWA collection at risk of damage

17/05/2018 - 14:37

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The auditor general of Western Australia has found about 785 artworks of the state’s $300 million collection is at risk of damage or loss due to inadequate storage, conservation and monitoring by the Art Gallery of WA.

AGWA has not completed a stocktake since 2010.

The auditor general of Western Australia has found about 785 artworks of the state’s $300 million collection is at risk of damage or loss due to inadequate storage, conservation and monitoring by the Art Gallery of WA.

More than $17 million worth of artwork was said to need treatment, with the majority identified more than four years ago and 99 unstable artworks identified more than seven years ago. 

The report by acting auditor general Sandra Labuschagne found AGWA did not have a plan to ensure all artworks are conserved, with conservation almost entirely focused on the minority of the collection displayed each year.

When undertaking the report, Ms Labuschangne found about 2.4 per cent of the collection was on display, but AGWA’s internal target was 5 per cent each year.

AGWA said it did not meet this target in 2016-17 as a lighting refit reduced display space.

Additionally, the report found AGWA cannot be certain of the location or condition of all works in the collection as its databases are poorly documented and it has not completed a stocktake since 2010.

Although AGWA had grown the state’s collection, adding 473 pieces between July 2014 and July 2017, Ms Labuschagne said it had a shortage of storage space in which to house the artworks and no plan to ensure their conservation, putting them at risk of devaluation.

The collection is kept almost entirely at the AGWA building in the Perth Cultural Centre and consists of almost 18,000 works from Western Australian, Australian and international artists.

It includes works such as paintings, sculptures and audio-visual pieces, with a focus on Western Australian art, as well as 20th century paintings and sculpture.

“At the heart of AGWA’s work is conservation of the art works and presentation of world class art displays,” Ms Labuschagne said.

“Establishing a plan is particularly important given the limited resources AGWA has available to carry out this work.”

She said AGWA also had a responsibility to increase public access to the collection, particularly in regional areas.

Last year's visitor numbers were 20 per cent down on the 2012-13 peak, predominately lagging in regional areas, despite success in 2016-17 from implementing a range of exhibitions, activities, and initiatives.

“AGWA has taken steps to attract visitors to the gallery through its exhibitions, education programs and social media campaigns,” Ms Labuschagne said.

“But these efforts focus on attracting visitors to the Perth gallery, with little opportunity for regional Western Australians to view artworks in person or online.”

The report also detailed steps AGWA could take to remedy the situations, recommending completion by mid-2019.  

“While fixing the issues will not be easy in a time of restrained government spending, the AGWA staff we met showed a dedication and passion to finding ways to address the issues,” Ms Labuschagne said.

AGWA responded and said it considered its management and care of the collection had been effective given the complexity of the task and resources available, but accepted the recommendations.

It said it was working with the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries on achieving a speedy offsite storage solution.

“Currently AGWA is working with the department and (touring organisation) Art on the Move on a three-year pilot program to make Western Australian culture more widely accessible within WA and attract visitors, by touring more high quality visual arts exhibitions,” AGWA said.

It said as part of an ongoing project to improve website access, AGWA had created a new online portal to explore the collection, with the first phase featuring indigenous works having launched earlier this year.

“The catalogue record text for each art work in the collection will be available online by June 2019 and works will be digitised and loaded as part of the ongoing program to digitise the collection,” AGWA said. 

“AGWA acknowledges there is scope to improve and standardise collection recordkeeping (and) will formally document the standards for collection records.” 

The first complete stocktake occurred over a five-year period and used considerable staff resources, it said.

“AGWA accepts that stocktakes are an important mechanism for proper collection management and control and will work to develop a process by June 2019 to ensure improved control of artworks,” it said.

“AGWA also will develop a multi-year project as part of its conservation program to implement a safe tagging and external tracking system for art works.”

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