Date published: 11/01/2014

The Undiscovered symposium has been and gone, but we are sure the event made a lasting impression on those who attended. Here a few personal thoughts from local and national visual arts sector members:

  • Artist and lecturer, Louise Morrison.
  • Artsource artist member and past Artsource board member, Penny Coss.
  • Joanna Mendelssohn, the Program Director of Art Administration at the School of Art History and Art Education, UNSW Australia. Joanna is also Editor in Chief for the Design and Art of Australia Online, UNSW Australia

If you attended the symposium and would like to offer you own thoughts on the day, you can do so via this survey.
Couldn’t attend? Read symposium-related content online:

Louise Morrison: Symposium Reflections

I was very struck by the last session in which Ted listed his selection of six "actions" that would greatly assist the invigoration of the visual arts in WA.  I agree with all of them, and particularly support the reverse artflight grant (Artsource once paid for the Curator of the Biennale of Sydney to come to WA and it had a direct impact on the number of WA artists in that 2008 show).  But I would also like to add a seventh.

The issue of the position of the AGWA Librarian, and public access to the AGWA library, was first raised by Victoria Laurie earlier this year.  In her article in the Australian, she wrote "And scholars and external curators have been denied access to the gallery’s research library; it closed after cuts that abolished its librarian position".

Ted discussed the invisibility of WA art in the literature.  Part of the problem is a lack of published material such as books, comprehensive catalogues or surveys on WA art.  The history of WA art can be found, instead, in the ephemera kept in the filing cabinets of those who have sold or collected WA art.

The AGWA library has a file on every artist in the collection, and in that file is every invitation, newspaper article, catalogue essay, curator's note, (even items of personal correspondence!) that pertains to that artist's career.  It is a GOLDMINE of information for researchers who wish to seek information about WA artists (if they are in the collection, and a great many are).  In the absence of any published information, many of us would instead go into the library and build our research from the primary sources in those files.  However, we have been unable to do this for a number of years.

I am sure that this vital source of information about historical and contemporary visual arts practice in WA is not the only one.  Every collection worth its salt will have similar record for those artists whose work they have purchased.  This will include Wesfarmers, Holmes a Court, Bankwest, Central Institute of Technology, a number of hospitals, local government, the universities and so on.  Someone also mentioned, on Monday, that the commercial galleries that have now closed also maintained such files.  I am sure this material is still around, probably stored somewhere unsuitable.

I would like to propose that a cross-institutional project is begun to collate, digitise and store this material in/on a site that is easily accessed by all.  Imagine being able to access a database of currently unavailable material on our professional artists (contemporary and historical). LISWA seem like an essential party to be involved, as do AGWA of course. I already have a number of people from various other institutions (the universities, Central Institute of Technology and the like) who have expressed support and interest in forming a working party.

Penny Coss: The Undiscovered. My response.

In his keynote address Dr Ian McLean outlined the paradox of place based arguments such as isolation if we study the success of indigenous art and artists in WA. He noted that state based arguments fall flat when it’s a fact that biennales are actually city based. I wondered how it connected to a Symposium on a national focus on Western Australian Art. Perhaps that was the point. Perhaps we need an Australian Biennale that moved from state to state to territory to test that.

The panellists were well organized and provocative with the real measure of success to me were the lively discussions in the lobbies. I noticed an absence of younger artist audience members. Perhaps the cost that it was a working day or there was no representation on the panels. Maybe the subject was of no concern and that’s a pity because it would have extended the discussion.

I related to the artists’ panel who all seemed to express the need for community and a sense of belonging. This was somewhat echoed in a measured presentation by Carly Lane on the curators’ panel emphasizing not to go it alone, to build networks. In an oblique reference to the keynote address she added that the success rates of urban and regional indigenous artists were skewed, suggesting the formulation of urban artist collectives to address this.

A persuasive presentation by Adelaide based curator Lisa Slade suggested ‘undiscovered’ was an advantage. In finding the unorthodox to make meaning is key to being attractive and to the broader audience, and so building an audience. Felicity Johnston from the arts sector panel remarks that we have missed the attention of a whole generation of younger collectors and that we need to build a local audience. Both panellists reminded us that it’s tough out there, everywhere and get real, ‘no one is coming’.

What’s next? I believe we must take ourselves seriously and formalise those lobby discussions to lobby the government into backing the arts seriously, with a panel of advisors making real the great ideas covered in this Symposium.

Penny Coss, Artist.


Joanna Mendelssohn: Thoughts

Associate Professor, UNSW | Art & Design

I think it is great you all got together to talk, and I hope you do it again, and often. Western Australia has so much going for it that it was a surprise to hear so many people feel hard done by. Just as Western Australia is much larger and more complex than Perth, so the other side of the Nullarbor has a patchwork of cultures — including some large areas of serious disadvantage.

So what to do to make life better? 

a) Technology is good. Blog software is free. The Artlife started out as a Wordpress (free) anonymous blog by Andrew Frost. A decade later and it is a flourishing website, has spawned several television shows and led to Andrew being the Australian art critic for the Guardian. Online means images and ideas can go around the world. People can make their own luck.

b) Design and Art of Australia Online, is an ever expanding open access database on Australian visual culture. It aims to include the entire country, and from the start we were actively asking people in Western Australians to contribute. To do so, go to

c) From my research on Australian public art galleries it is fairly clear that in order to flourish it is not just enough to have a great director. The board, and especially the chair of the board, needs to have the ear of whoever controls the state’s purse strings — either the Treasurer or the Premier, preferably both. Politicians who want to be re-elected respond well to being leaned on, as long as it’s done politely. It’s time to befriend a politician (or two).

d) The only reason why Australia has been able to afford major international exhibitions is that since 1975 the Commonwealth government has acted as its own insurer, indemnifying the full value of priceless art as it flies in, instead of paying millions of dollars in insurance premiums (major art travels in a series of planes with couriers so the risk is best described as minute and over the years the payouts have been minuscule). As this great money saver is only available to exhibitions travelling to more than one state, some states — including NSW and Victoria — run their own indemnity schemes. That is why the Art Gallery of NSW and the National Gallery of Victoria can put on such spectacular exhibitions. Apparently Western Australia does not do this so all your travelling exhibitions attract high insurance premiums. That is a policy well overdue for a change.

  • Comments and opinions expressed here are personal and have been written independently of Artsource.

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