IAC Art Talks Lecture 7: Chinese Art in Australian Public Collections by Jackie Menzies OAM (Catch up Online)

Image details: Cai Guo-Qiang, China b.1957 / Heritage (installation view and details) 2013 / 99 life-sized replicas of animals. Animals: polystyrene, gauze, resin and hide. Installed with artificial watering hole: water, sand, drip mechanism.

GOMA, purchased 2013 with funds from the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Diversity Foundation through and with the assistance of the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Cai Guo-Qiang / Photograph: N Harth © QAGOMA

The event was held on Thursday 16 November 2023.


There is excellent Chinese art within public collections in Australia, ranging in date from the Shang dynasty (c 1700 - 1027 BCE) through to the present, and representing a wide range of media. Collections are extremely varied, reflecting a combination of formal acquisition policies and the specialist interests and ambitions of diverse curators, collectors, and donors. This talk is an overview of the strengths of different public art collections and the people responsible from the first examples of Chinese art acquired by a public collection —the National Gallery of Victoria in 1867 — through to the present. The talk will present the shifts in collecting over the decades: from late 19th/early 20th century collecting through to the 1960s-80s to the 1990s and beyond when contemporary art acquisitions and exhibitions have become the focuses for most institutions. Different collections have different emphases, shaped by funding and policy as well as the scholarship and collecting passions of individual afficionados. Selected major acquisitions will be shown in this talk: many have been purchases, but some have been single outstanding donations. Institutions have been enriched with the distinctive, sometimes idiosyncratic, collections formed by individuals: from the bequest of George (‘Chinese’) Morrison (1862-1920) to the NGV in 1921; to the Peter Townsend (1940-2006) collection sale of Chinese woodcuts to NGA in 1985;  the Alistair Morrison (1915-2009) gift of Chinese toggles to the Powerhouse in 1992 (currently on show at the Chau Chak Wing Museum); and the Dr James Hayes (1930-2023) gift of calligraphies to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2003. A wide variety of contemporary Chinese art, by Chinese and Chinese-Australian artists, is being collected by institutions through purchase from an artist or dealer; from art fairs and exhibitions such as Biennales (local and overseas); through artist commissions and through dedicated funds such as the Kenneth Myer (1921-1992) fund for contemporary Asian art at the QAGOMA. The result is a dynamic and stimulating presentation of cultural identity and future directions that enriches our lives as well as giving depth and continuation to public collections.

About the Speaker

Jackie Menzies OAM was Head of Asian Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales for over 30 years, from 1980-2012. During that time she was responsible for the acquisition and display of the Gallery’s Asian collections, as well as overseeing the installation of those collections in two new extensions to the Asian galleries: one in 1990, the other in 2003. She was Editor of the Asian Collection Handbook and Asian Collections, publicationsproduced to coincide with each new extension. She was responsible for numerous other publications, lectures and exhibitions related to the Chinese collections of the Gallery, as well as initiating and/or contributing to various exhibitions of Chinese art from other collections. Exhibitions in which she has been involved at the Gallery include CELESTIAL SILKS, Chinese religious and court textiles (2004; with Judith Rutherford et al); BUDDHA, Radiant Awakening (2001, with Adrian Snodgrass); The People’s Progress: 20th century Chinese Woodcuts (1996); IMPERIAL CHINA, The Living Past (1992, with Edmund Capon and Yang Yang); Contemporary Chinese Painting from Guangdong (1986); and Late Chinese Imperial Porcelain (1980, with J.H. Myrtle). In 2015 she curated INSPIRED BY BUDDHISM, Contemporary Asian-Australian artists as the opening exhibition at Nantien Institute, Wollongong. Currently she is President of the Asian Arts Society of Australia and in 2019 was editor for the TAASA Review issue Chinese-Australian Artists (vol 28, no.3).