28/09/2011 - 11:10

Historical treasures fit for royalty

28/09/2011 - 11:10


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Historical treasures fit for royalty
LEARNING EXPERIENCE: Victoria and Albert museum deputy director Beth McKillop believes in the educational value of touring collections. Photo: Madoka Ikegami

A VISIT to Princely Treasures, the latest in the Art Gallery of Western Australia’s Great Collections of the World series, is a mesmerising historical experience.

Tiny trinkets and jewel-laden snuffboxes from the 1600-1800s are in one section of the exhibition space, while marble sculptures of royalty and furniture from Marie Antoinette’s private collection are also on show.

The collection is normally housed in London’s Victoria and Albert museum – affectionately called the V&A – and has arrived in Perth in perfect condition.

V&A’s deputy director, Beth McKillop, explained during her flying visit to attend the Princely Treasures launch that two months of heavy-duty logistical work and a year of planning is needed for such a tour.

“It is a big logistical exercise. It takes a while to assess, research and preserve the works before they leave our premises. Then we send them across the world, and our staff travel out here and work with the staff of the Art Gallery of Western Australia collaboratively setting up this fantastic show,” Dr McKillop said.

“I wouldn’t say it is stressful, it is something we do a lot of, at any one point in time we have a dozen shows going around different parts of Britain and the world.

“I wouldn’t say we are relaxed about it, but we are very experienced.”

The Great Collections of the World series was initiated by the state gallery’s director Stefano Carboni, and is funded by the state government’s Eventscorp and corporate sponsors, such as the principal series sponsor Ernst and Young.

And while the V&A prefers not to discuss the cost of its touring program, Dr McKillop said there were reasons outside of commercial gain for the program.

“Like all museums, we are conscious of our responsibility to look after the things that are in our stewardship for the future,” Dr McKillop told WA Business News.

“We do invest a great deal in a show like this, not only in the physical production of it but we also have our staff writing and research and doing the logistical work and the conservation work.

“Although we do charge a fee, it is not primarily a commercial transaction and I think in that we probably differ from some American museums, which are not government funded and absolutely have to rely on big touring exhibitions, blockbusters, to generate large income.

“When we do tours like this we do hope not to make a loss from it. The major reason for doing it is the wish to share what is in the collections. 

“If it is possible to do it safely and well, and it is possible to share that experience of art more broadly, then we should do it.”

Dr McKillop said some of the works in the Princely Treasures exhibition hadn’t left the V&A for 80 years, and seeing them in a modern art gallery had been a refreshing experience.

“It is always a surprise to see works of art physically in a different space; it is a bit like when you move house and put your furniture in a different room, somehow it takes on a different character,” she said. “In this modernist building, in this very neutral gallery space, without the architectural features that we have to deal with in our installations, it does look different.

“It is a good thing, it allows you to really focus on each work of art and blank out the surrounding environment which was a bit of a distraction in the previous space.”

Dr McKillop added that Mr Carboni’s collaboration on the instalment of the collection had built its success.

“I think he brings to it a kind of European connoisseurship and a particular interest and understanding of certain parts of the collection which have deepened and livened up our presentation of it,” she said.



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