Collector’s Corner presents a series of conversations with avid art collectors, searching for the rich stories and ideas that are woven into their incredible (and enviable!) collections. The collectors we chat with show a boundless support of contemporary art, with their ever-growing enthusiasm entwined with the story and artists of Arts Project Australia.
For Collector’s Corner #6 we caught up Charlotte Day, Director of Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA). Charlotte was previously an Associate Curator at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art and part of the curatorium who worked on the Michael Buxton Collection of Australian Art. She’s a passionate supporter of the speculative and experimental in art and sees her role as being to bring people, art and ideas together. Charlotte interested in ways art collections can be activated and shared and how we can work with art in the public realm. Not to mention she also curated the group exhibition Let’s Dance at Arts Project in 2017.
We also talk with Kirrily Hammond who works alongside Charlotte as the Collection Manager at MUMA, as well as being a practicing artist. She was previously employed at Canberra Museum and Gallery, Megalo Print Workshop, Canberra, and the National Gallery of Victoria. She has a Curatorial Masters Degree at the University of Melbourne and a Diploma of Law through the Institute of Art & Law, UK. As Collection Manager at MUMA, Kirrily oversees the installation of art across the various Monash University campuses.
Together, the pair have an incredible amount of collecting and artistic wisdom, both from their professional perspectives, as well as acute personal insights. Have a read as they discuss their art epiphanies, working with artists from Callum Morton to Bianca Hester, and the importance of story-telling and personality when collecting artwork.
We’re curious as to how you first became interested in art? Did you have an art epiphany for instance?
Charlotte: I grew up going to galleries but my first love was the old Melbourne Museum’s dioramas which I thought were absolutely magical. When I was ten my family went on a whirlwind tour of Europe and we visited a lot of museums. After university, I went again and I think it was these trips that really cemented my love of museums. I came back and enrolled in the Post Graduate Diploma in Art Curating, as it was then called at the University of Melbourne. This was a new course, and at the time I was unaware that it was actually one of the first of its kind in the world. It provided a broad overview of the museum profession but through it I interned at 200 Gertrude Street where I got to meet artists and get closer to contemporary practice. It wasn’t until I worked on the Michael Buxton Collection, in the late 2000s, that I became involved in an art collection.
Kirrily: I guess it’s apt that a very early art epiphany happened while I attended a catholic primary school in New South Wales, where the other kids always asked me to draw Jesus for them! It made me realise not everyone had a natural predilection for drawing. Throughout my career working in museums and galleries, I’ve always gravitated towards caring for collections – I love working with objects and I feel pretty lucky to see how a wide range of artists approach their practice.
Monash University Museum of Art Collection contains an incredible selection of works. How would you describe your approach to collecting art for MUMA? What decisions and processes come into play when selecting work on behalf of an institution?
Charlotte: When I first came to MUMA I undertook a review of the collection to test the assumptions made about it. We looked at the collection from many different angles: gender, generational, media, subject, topicality etc, and made decisions on what to prioritise accordingly to build up representations and fill certain gaps. This makes the process sound scientific and I do like to have a collecting plan! That being said it is also important to allow for spontaneity and to be able to be responsive to what artists make and in doing that you may not be able to predict.
Kirrily: First and foremost, I think the work has to be compelling, and it should be an excellent example of the artist’s practice. In terms of the Monash University Collection, the focus is on Australian contemporary art, so it’s important to be aware of what artists are doing – from studios, artist run spaces, commercial spaces to larger institutions and everything in between!
You both collect art in your personal lives, as well as in your roles at MUMA. What do you love about collecting art and what compels you to collect and keep collecting?
Charlotte: I think Kirrily might be more of a collector than I am! The artworks I do have are mostly connected to exhibitions or projects that I have been involved in. When I was an undergraduate student I did acquire two postcard sized artworks by Tony Clark that I am still very fond of. Most recently I acquired a 2D work by Alex Martinis Roe for my daughter.
Kirrily: The works that I own were mostly collected due to a personal connection to the artist – whether it’s a swap, or I’ve purchased a friend’s work, or the artist is pursuing similar interests to my own through their practice. Surrounding myself with these works is rejuvenating and inspiring.
Is there a particular artwork or artist that you’ve been most excited to collect? Whether in your roles at MUMA or personally?
Kirrily: Late last year I oversaw the installation of Kulata Tjuta (2012-14), a significant installation of 277 spears suspended from the ceiling in the university’s main library at the Clayton campus. This is a compelling work that was created by artists from the Tjala Arts centre in the community of Amata in South Australia.
Charlotte: A number of years ago I was involved in the collecting of Simryn Gill’s Throwback – Remade internal systems from a model 1313 Tata truck, circa 1985. (2007) for the Michael Buxton Collection. It’s an ambitious work that is also rife with inherent vice. So when it was acquired, it was a real sign of the Collections’ support for challenging work. At MUMA, in recent years we have focused on work by Indigenous artists with the Kulata – that Kirrily has mentioned – as being one of our most significant acquisitions. We are currently working on a public art project with artist Megan Cope that incorporates languages and sharing of knowledge that we are excited about. A few years back we acquired an instructional performative work by George Egerton Warburton that heralded a new collecting direction for the Monash University Collection.
Do you have a memorable art-related experience or moment? Either as a curator, artist or collector?
Charlotte: I have so many! Setting up Callum Morton’s three-quarter scale version of his family home as a ruin at the Venice Biennale was thrilling. Working with Bianca Hester on her installation at ACCA, which changed every day across the course of the exhibition, was challenging and liberating. When I first came to MUMA I invited Fiona Connor to make a responsive work to the university context and she made a great project that connected the museum to the collection, the architecture of Monash and the history of display. I have to mention too, Stuart Ringholt’s nude disco which had a profound effect on the museum and its audiences. These are just a few…What I like about MUMA is that it’s a museum space with climate control etc, so we are able to loan really significant works to exhibit but it also has the quality of a project space in which we can commission new work and build in situ – hopefully we can maintain a useful tension between these two approaches.
Kirrily: In 2005 I undertook an extended period of research in the British Museum’s prints and drawings study room, with open access to a mind-boggling collection, there were many amazing things to study. Leafing through Bellini’s sketch book from the mid-1400s was one highlight. At MUMA we have many school groups visit behind-the-scenes: to be able to facilitate viewing works from the collection and see the looks of wonder on students’ faces is pretty special.
What was your first encounter with Arts Project and when did you first start to become interested in artwork by our artists?
Charlotte: I think it was Ricky Swallow‘s involvement with Arts Project, as well as my own interest in a number of the artists that drew me to visit the first time. Arts Project does such a great job of promoting artists and creating opportunities for them to connect with other artists.
Kirrily: I was very aware of Arts Project for some time before I had the opportunity to delve deeper into the archive whilst curating an exhibition for them in 2013. It was such an inspiring experience to be surrounded by such a rich collection of work and be in the vicinity of some truly prolific artists.
Can you talk about the artworks you have collected from Arts Project? We know you’ve collected works personally, but there was also an exciting recent addition to MUMA’s collection…
Kirrily: I was very excited that works by Fulli Andrinopoulos were recently acquired for the Monash University Collection. I’ve been a fan of her richly colourful drawings for quite a few years and being able to acquire a significant group and then immediately put them on display at the university was immensely satisfying.
If you were to purchase another Arts Project artwork right now, which artist would you look at and why?
Charlotte: A number of Art Project artists’ work is inspired by science fiction and outer space – I’m drawn to those subjects and imaginative spaces! I really like Cathy Staughton’s work, also Chris Mason’s nude yoga ceramics are pretty special too.
And finally, what pearls of wisdom have you learnt about collecting – both from a gallery perspective and as a personal collector?
Charlotte: The collections I like the best have personality and stories that connect to them. They follow particular passions or threads and go deep into practice.
Kirrily: Avoid collector’s regret – if it’s possible to acquire a work that you are particularly drawn to, go for it – the opportunity doesn’t usually happen twice!
This is Arts Project Australia’s fifth edition of Collector’s Corner. Have a read of Collector’s Corner #1 with Clive Scott, Manager of Sofitel Melbourne; Collector’s Corner #2 with Abi Crompton, founder and director of Third Drawer Down; Collector’s Corner #3 with Kim Butterworth and Graham Meadowcroft, publishers of Art Guide Australia; Collector’s Corner #4 with artist Ricky Swallow; and Collector’s Corner #5 with artist Sassy Park. Stay tuned for further editions and feel free to gander through our art collections, as well as find out more about Arts Project Australia’s artists and art.