The National Gallery of Australia (NGA; originally the Australian National Gallery) is the national art museum of Australia as well as one of the largest art museums in Australia, holding more than 166,000 works of art. Located in Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory, it was established in 1967 by the Australian government as a national public art museum.
The vision of the Gallery is the cultural enrichment of all Australians through access to their national art gallery, the quality of the national collection, the exceptional displays, exhibitions and programs, and the professionalism of our staff.
Key priorities are the continued development of an outstanding national collection of works of art; maintenance and protection of the national collection; to provide engaging displays, exhibitions and public programs; to provide extensive access to and publication and promotion of the national collection and the visual arts.
The National Gallery of Australia opened to the public in October 1982. It is a Federal Government authority established under an act of the Australian parliament in 1975.
The National Gallery building is in the late 20th-century Brutalist style. It is characterised by angular masses and raw concrete surfaces and is surrounded by a series of sculpture gardens planted with Australian native plants and trees.
The geometry of the building is based on a triangle, most obviously manifested for visitors in the coffered ceiling grids and tiles of the principal floor. Madigan said of this device that it was “the intention of the architectural concept to implant into the grammar of the design a sense of freedom so that the building could be submitted to change and variety but would always express its true purpose”. This geometry flows throughout the building, and is reflected in the triangular stair towers, columns and building elements.
The building is principally constructed of reinforced bush hammered concrete, which was also originally the interior wall surface. More recently, the interior walls have been covered with painted wood, to allow for increased flexibility in the display of artworks.
The building has 23,000 m2 of floor space. The design provides space for both the display and storage of works of art and to accommodate the curatorial and support staff of the Gallery. Madigan’s design is based on Sweeney’s recommendation that there should be a spiral plan, with a succession of galleries to display works of art of differing sizes and to allow flexibility in the way in which they were to be exhibited.
There are three levels of galleries. On the principal floor, the galleries are large, and are used to display the Indigenous Australian and International (meaning European and American) collections. The bottom level also contains a series of large galleries, originally intended to house sculpture, but now used to display the Asian art collection. The topmost level contains a series of smaller, more intimate galleries, which are now used to display the Gallery’s collection of Australian art. Sweeney had recommended that sources of natural light should not detract from the collections, and so light sources are intended to be indirect.
The High Court and National Gallery Precinct were added to the Australian National Heritage List in November 2007.
The collection of the National Gallery of Australia includes:
Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art (mostly recent, but in traditional forms)
Art in the European Tradition (from European settlement to the present day)
Western art (from Medieval to Modern, mostly Modern)
Eastern art (from South and East Asia, mostly traditional)
Modern Art (international)
Pacific Arts (from Melanesia and Polynesia mostly traditional)
Photography (International & Australian)
Crafts (dishes to dresses, international)
Sculpture Garden (Auguste Rodin to Modern)
Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art dominated by the Aboriginal Memorial of 200 painted tree trunks commemorating all the indigenous people who had died between 1788 and 1988 defending their land against invaders. Each tree trunk is a dupun or log coffin, which is used to mark the safe tradition of the soul of the deceased from this world to the next. Artists from Ramingining painted it to mark the Australian Bicentenary and it was accepted for display by the Biennale of Sydney in 1988. Mollison agreed to purchase it for permanent display before its completion.