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Adelaide Contemporary fades as interstate rivals take off

Arts & Culture

Interstate plans for major new contemporary art galleries have entrenched the State Government’s position in favour of a national Aboriginal arts and culture gallery on the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site.

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The results of an international design competition for Adelaide Contemporary – the concept championed by recently departed Art Gallery of SA director Nick Mitzevich – were announced today, but the winning design seems unlikely to progress at the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site, or anywhere else, in the foreseeable future.

Premier and Arts Minister Steven Marshall, whose government was contractually obliged to complete the design competition begun under Labor, has not absolutely ruled out supporting an Adelaide Contemporary concept, but told InDaily today that a new vision for a gallery at the old RAH site must be unique.

He said his priority was to build a national Aboriginal arts and culture gallery at the old RAH – a Liberal promise made during the recent state election campaign – and noted burgeoning contemporary art galleries interstate.

On the weekend, the Victorian Government announced it would spend $208 million to kickstart a project to design and plan what is says will be Australia’s largest contemporary art gallery.

With shades of the Mitzevich plan, the Victorian gallery will be called “NGV Contemporary”.

Marshall described the Melbourne concept as “incredible” and noted similar plans were underway to create “Sydney Modern” at the Art Gallery of NSW.

“I am of the opinion that there are a number of established and proposed contemporary art galleries in Australia,” he said.

“What we have to do is make sure what we have to offer is not ‘me too’ but differentiated… We want to offer something unique.”

The future of Adelaide Contemporary was in doubt from the moment Marshall announced his policy for the old RAH site, with its focus on an Aboriginal art and culture gallery.

However, his arts bureaucrats appear to be remaining hopeful, with Arts SA executive director Peter Louca today saying the design competition “has put the creation of Adelaide’s next great cultural destination on the international map”.

Competition jury chair Michael Lynch said the winning concept “responds to this once-in-a-generation opportunity for a landmark building in the heart of the city”.

The design includes what the winners call a ground-floor “super lobby” and “floating top-floor sky galleries”. It has nine gallery spaces of differing sizes and heights.

In a media release, Arts SA said: “The elevated garden open to the sky would be inspired by the Kaurna concept of Minkunthi (meaning ‘to relax’) with planting of a pre-colonised South Australian landscape, linking the idea of the contemporary to the Kaurna ecological and cultural history”.

An interior view of the winning design.

Marshall says that while the winning design in the Adelaide Contemporary competition might be useful in informing the design of a new institution on North Terrace, there is plenty of time for all the interested parties to come to an agreement about how to proceed.

He said the extensive demolition work required on the old RAH site meant there would be no delay in finalising plans for a new Aboriginal-focused gallery.

At least three parties will need to agree to the Aboriginal arts and culture gallery: the SA Museum, the Art Gallery of South Australia, and Tandanya. Together, Marshall argues these institutions hold the greatest collection of Aboriginal arts and cultural items in Australia.

The strength of that collection is why he’s relaxed about a more advanced proposal in the Nothern Territory to create a national Aboriginal art gallery in Alice Springs. The Territory Government is already seeking senior curation staff.

InDaily understands the success or otherwise of the three-way negotiation in Adelaide will go a long way towards deciding whether the Aboriginal arts and culture gallery goes ahead, with the Government keen to avoid creating one big winner – or loser – in the process.

Labor’s arts spokesperson Jayne Stinson wants decisions to be made more quickly.

“What’s needed right now is some clarity and leadership,” she said.

“New building designs have been released but Steven Marshall won’t commit to them and the timeline for any decision about a new gallery has been pushed out by Mr Marshall.

“States like Victoria are getting their act together announcing their own plans for contemporary galleries and SA risks being left behind.”

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