The Monash University Collection – a brief history

View images

The Monash University Collection was established with the foundation of the University in 1961. Noted for its adventurous commitment to contemporary art as it develops, the collection has grown to become a leading representation of contemporary Australian art from the 1960s to the present.

The inaugural acquisition was John Perceval’s Homage to Lawrence Hargrave 1961, a multi-part ceramic mural that represents a cautionary tale of scientific endeavour. Subsequent early acquisitions focused on works by modernist artists including Charles Blackman and Clifton Pugh, and early landscape and architecturally integrated works by Leonard French, Les Kossatz and Clive Murray-White.

In the late 1960s, critic, curator and future museum director Patrick McCaughey joined the art purchasing committee. He was the first formally appointed adviser to the collection. McCaughey, a leading advocate of late-modern avant-garde art, steered the committee towards acquiring works by a new generation of abstract and minimal artists including Peter Booth, Dale Hickey, Robert Hunter, Robert Jacks, Roger Kemp, Elwyn Lynn and Robert Rooney.

After McCaughey’s appointment as Foundation Chair of Visual Arts at Monash, with Grazia Gunn becoming the collection’s first full-time curator, an acquisitions policy was established in 1976. This formalised the curator’s role in the selection of works for the committee’s approval.

In this period, the collection grew in scope through key works by leading artists including Arthur Boyd, John Brack, Mike Brown, Richard Larter, Sidney Nolan, Edwin Tanner and Danila Vassilieff. Works by Irene Barberis, Lynn Hershmann, Bea Maddock and Madonna Staunton reflected the increasing importance of feminist art criticism.

In the 1980s and `90s, the collection grew to become one of national significance. Its focus was expanded under Jenepher Duncan’s directorship, as postmodern artists ushered in new forms and conceptual strategies allied to appropriation, feminism and post-colonialism. Questions of national identity were also evident in motifs related to suburbia and the experience of place.

The collection has developed a wide range of strengths and areas of focus. It includes informal (anti-form) sculpture, photography by indigenous artists, and recent modes of performance and installation.

The Monash University Collection now encompasses more than 1800 works, which chart a period of dynamic change from the medium-specific perceptual and formal experiments of late modernism, to an expanded field of cultural reference inaugurated by pop, minimal, conceptual and performance art.

The collection demonstrates Monash’s ongoing commitment to the patronage and advancement of the visual arts in Australia. Through it, MUMA aims to foster appreciation and understanding of the visual arts both at the university and among the wider community.

With a steadfast focus upon innovative and experimental art, the Monash University Collection also supports and reflects exemplary research into contemporary art and curatorial practices, while offering a significant opportunity to explore the dynamic development of contemporary art since the 1960s.