Bequests, budgets and bureaucracy: Why have some of New South Wales most established regional galleries looked to sell off artworks?

Raymond Wholohan

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Evidence suggests that major international and national galleries such as the National Gallery of Art, Washington (est. 1937), National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (est. 1967) and the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (est.1861) all owe the prestige of their art collections to acts of philanthropy and how the most valuable art collections found in New South Wales regional art galleries came into existence in similar manners. This article will review recent controversy sounding these regional collections and compare the situation to similar circumstances that have recently occurred in English regional gallery models.Regional public galleries in New South Wales hold a large portion of the state's distributed art collection, as well as some of the state's largest and most significant cultural gifts, donated by some of the country's most generous benefactors. In fact the two regional galleries with the most prestigious and fiscally valuable art collections were both founded due to substantial bequests. These galleries are Newcastle Art Gallery (formerly Newcastle Region Art Gallery) (est. 1957) and the New England Regional Art Museum (est. 1984) located in Armidale.Due to this fact, both the Newcastle and New England galleries have had a proud and substantial history of receiving further benefaction over the years toward developing their respective and respected art collections. Logically, potential benefactors want to endow their collections to institutions with a strong track-record of conserving, preserving, and interpreting donated private collections and cultural gifts for posterity.In recent years, it has become apparent that both these well established regional galleries have proposed and even begun to action the deaccessioning and sale of parts of their art collections. This is to provide much needed funds to cover accumulated debts, operational costs and even planned gallery renovations. It could be foreseen that such actions may only reduce the future ability of these galleries to attract further and often vital benefaction, as well as the respective reputations of both regional galleries.This article will examine why such established regional galleries have considered, or even resorted to such severe methods of raising revenue. Finally, this article will examine ethical and legal ramifications of such actions and the responses of industry stakeholders and key commentators in the field, such as art critics and gallery directors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalFusion Journal
Issue number004
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014

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