By Richard Watts
In 1967, La Trobe University’s first 511 students enrolled at the institution’s original Bundoora campus. From the very beginning, art was a part of their daily lives.
‘The philosophy at the outset with La Trobe was that art work was part of the University. It’s incorporated into the very architecture,’ explained Dr Kent Wilson, Senior Curator at La Trobe Art Institute.
‘They chose some fairly forward-thinking architects to design the campus but then they integrated art works into the campus itself. Outdoor works were commissioned on campus – there’s a wonderful sculpture park at La Trobe – and they commissioned a fantastic glass artist to make the entrance wall to the Library as well. From the very beginning they wanted art work to be an intrinsic part of the life of the students and the staff at the University.’
As part of La Trobe University’s 50th anniversary celebrations, a new exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery – Revealing Identity: the Collections of La Trobe University –shines a light on La Trobe’s art collections, including iconic works by leading Australian artists as well as valuable ethnographic and political works.
While some such university collections remain hidden, Revealing Identity puts La Trobe’s finest works under the spotlight.
‘There are some not very well known but very high quality collections that are hidden away in the universities, in those bureaucracies and institutions – and that was one of the really pleasing things when I came on board at La Trobe: opening the files and opening up the doors and realising that there was such a broad array of wonderful stuff,’ said Wilson.
The exhibition provides a fascinating snapshot of art world trends and changes over a half century and more.
‘We have an early work from the seminal NGV exhibition, The Field, from Dale Hickey in our collection. Around that time Australians picked up on abstraction and you can see that coming through in the early Seventies with the works that we’ve collected,’ said Wilson.
‘You can see also in more recent times an awareness that there needs to be greater acknowledgement of the diversity of the practitioners of art. So early on in the piece – and this is pretty much the case with most collections –there’s white male artists dominating constantly. Then through the Nineties you see an awareness that there needs to be an opening up to broader voices – queer voices, female artists, Indigenous artists. You see that start to come into the collection.’
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Photo by Bill Conroy.
Artwork credits, L-R: Robert Jacks, Metropolis 15 (1985), oil on canvas, La Trobe University Art Collection, LTU2204/09; Unknown, Shield (nd), wood, natural pigments, ochres, La Trobe University Ethnographic Collection, LTUE436, Darren Wardle, Enter the Dark (2007), acrylic and oil on canvas, La Trobe University Art Collection, LTU2065/07.