Art collection has national audience

Article image - Art collection has national audience Arthur Boyd (19201999) Woman in a jinker 1976 oil on canvas, 182.7 x 175.3 cm
Rockhampton Art Gallery collection, Art Acquisition Fund, purchased with the assistance of the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council 1976 Reproduced with permission of Bundanon Trust

Rockhampton is well known for its beef and bulls but may not be a place many would associate with a nationally significant multi million dollar art collection.

All that is set to change when Cream: four decades of Australian Art lifts the lid on one of the greatest art stories of regional Australia that until now has remained untold.

Thanks to an unlikely fundraising drive led by former mayor Rex Pilbeam, Rockhampton Art Gallery today houses works by renowned Australian artists including Sidney Nolan,Russell Drysdale, John Brack and Margaret Olley.

The pick of this collection of more than 1400 works is now being shared in a national touring exhibition: Cream: four decades of Australian art.

Rockhampton Mayor Councillor Margaret Strelow said that the collection was a unique and remarkable body of work by some of Australia’s greatest artists.

“Touring ‘Cream’ will give other audiences an understanding of just what an exceptional group of works Rockhampton has and will help cement Rockhampton’s place in Australia’s must-see cultural landscape.”

The collection was conceived in 1976 when then Mayor of Rockhampton, Rex Pilbeam, devised and implemented a fundraising campaign to establish a significant art collection for the city of Rockhampton.

Despite the economic recession of 1975, some $500,000 was raised (today, close to $2.7million) through public subscription, subsidies from Rockhampton City Council and a substantial grant from the Federal Government’s Australia Council.

Chair of the Rockhampton Art Gallery Trust and one of the original donors to Mayor Pilbeam’s art acquisition fund, Merilyn Luck said that the works have greatly appreciated over the years, with the entire collection now valued at more than $14 million.

“With great bravado, the Art Acquisition Committee, which consisted of Mayor Pilbeam, Bishop John Bayton, local architect Neil McKendry and Gallery Director Don Taylor, cannily snapped up works at a fraction of what they are worth today.”

The touring works chronicle the development of modernism in Australia from 1940 to 1980, and includes paintings, drawings and prints by artists such as John Perceval, Arthur Boyd, Charles Blackman, Sidney Nolan, Russell Drysdale, John Brack, Clifton Pugh, Sam Fulbrook, Margaret Olley, and Fred Williams.

After opening at the Rockhampton Art Gallery earlier this year, the exhibition is now on a two-year national tour. 

Accompanying the exhibition are Explorer Packs for teachers, online teachers’ notes, and art ‘toys’ for imaginative play.

The Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body, has assisted with the project.

Funding for insurance has been provided through the Queensland Government Exhibition Indemnification Scheme, administered by Arts Queensland.

Project support has come from the Regional Arts Development Fund, a Queensland Government through Arts Queensland and Rockhampton Regional Council partnership to support local arts and culture.

Rockhampton Art Gallery is owned and operated by Rockhampton Regional Council.