An act of generosity inspired the foundation of Murdoch University Art Collection. To commemorate Murdoch University’s inauguration in 1974 a series of artworks were donated by generous individuals. The most notable being eleven works received between 1974-75 from prominent collector and philanthropist, Dr Harold Schenberg, including works by Ian Fairweather, Leonard French, Roland Wakelin and Margaret Woodward. Along with the purchase of a drawing of Sir Walter Murdoch by Louis Kahan.
Robert Juniper, Cotswolds Landscape 1983. Acrylic and charcoal on linen, 182 x 232 cm (diptych). Donated by Rural and Industries Bank of Western Australia 1983.
Enthused by this patronage, the University’s Senate formed an Art Acquisitions Committee to establish an art collection in 1975. Professor Geoffrey Bolton was appointed Chair and the University’s Library was given responsibility to catalogue and manage the Collection. Throughout the 1970s and 80s the Collection advanced with purchased and donated artworks including works by Charles Blackman, Robert Juniper, Lloyd Rees, Jacob Epstein, Sidney Nolan and Tjapaltjarri Tim Leura.
By 1995, the Committee acknowledged the need for professional arts administration and appointed Angie Beck as the Collection’s first curator on a part-time basis. By 1997, the Art Acquisitions Committee disbanded to make way for an advisory board. The inaugural Chair of Murdoch University Art Collection Board was highly regarded curator, John Stringer and the new Board’s membership featured representation from the visual arts industry. The Board observed curation and management of the Collection and provided the Vice Chancellor with strategic counsel. In 1999, the Board implemented its first acquisitions policy and aimed to develop and maintain a distinctive art collection of the highest calibre. During this time, the Collection made many more acquisitions including artworks by Hans Arkeveld, Jarinyanu David Downs, Julie Dowling, Tony Jones, Brian McKay, Queenie McKenzie Nakarra, Sidney Nolan, Miriam Stannage and John Tarry.
Artists Unknown, Pukumani Poles (detail) circa 1980. Natural ochres and synthetic binder on Ironwood, Dimensions variable. Donated by John Roberts AO 1998.
The art collection flourished in the 2000s, with the appointment of the first full-time curator, Mark Stewart, along with increased funding, resources and a greater position in the university’s priorities. This was a significant turning point in the ongoing development of the collection, with major artwork acquisitions, public art commissions and successful fundraising campaigns for the purchase of artworks.
In 2006 the first major review of the collection’s acquisition strategy was undertaken to explore opportunities for future focus and development. As a result, additional focus areas such as abstraction, photo media and Indigenous art from urban and remote communities were introduced.
The Collection undertook substantial growth during this period with the strategic acquisition of a wide range of art by nationally recognised artists including, Tony Albert, Brian Blanchflower, Pat Brassington, Fiona Foley, Rodney Glick, Brent Harris, Petrina Hicks, Joanna Lamb, Janet Laurence, Patrick Mung Mung, Lena Nyadbi, Robert Owen, Christopher Pease, Trevor Richards, Gemma Smith, Alex Spremberg, Darren Sylvester and Karl Wiebke.
Several highly successful fundraising campaigns for targeted art acquisitions were realised and a record number of quality artwork donations were received over consecutive years.
Gemma SMITH, Boulder # 2 2008. Acrylic plastic, 94 x 64 cm. Purchased 2009.
Brian McKay, Geometer 1973. Oil on canvas on board, 91 x 122 cm. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Dr Jeffrey Hay & Di Hay 2011.
Noteworthy acquisitions in the last decade include artworks by Abdul Abdullah, Abdul Rahman Abdullah, Brook Andrew, James Angus, Nathan Beard, Jan Billycan, Andrew Browne, Susanna Castleden, Dadang Christanto, Timothy Cook, Bevan Honey, Kitty Kantilla, Rosemary Laing, Danie Mellor, Andrew Nicholls, John Nixon, Michael Riley, Brad Rimmer, Helen Smith, Wakartu Cory Surprise, Christian Thompson, Freddie Timms, Trevor Vickers and Anne Zahalka.
Rosemary Laing, The Paper, Wednesday 2013. C Type Photograph, 110 x 197.5 cm. Purchased 2014.
In 2016, the University introduced a public art strategy in which a percentage of budget for all building and refurbishment projects is allocated towards the purchase of artwork. After 9 years of service, Alan Dodge retired from the Board following the launch of Murdoch University Art Gallery in November 2017. Margaret Moore, a highly experienced and respected curator and art consultant, will commence the role as Murdoch University Art Collection Board’s fourth Chair in 2018.
Today the collection holds almost 2000 artworks, which are showcased throughout the university’s Perth, Rockingham and Mandurah campuses, including the Murdoch University Art Gallery, which presents regular exhibitions.
Nathan Beard, Ad Matres series 2014-17 (Clockwise from top left) Supodj | Hoongtong | Boonlaern | Rampai/Samniang/Ratana/Pornjit | Hoong | Sompong | Samlee |Boondta. Unique state digital prints on archival paper, with Swarovski crystal elements. Purchased 2017.