It's never been known for its hip, funky vibe, but the National Gallery of Australia is about to get a whole lot hipper, with the opening of a new space devoted to contemporary Australian art.
NGA Contemporary will occupy the lakeside gallery space at 44 Parkes Place, most recently home to the Gallery of Australian Design, which has relocated.
The space is set to open at the end of September with a survey of 21st century Australian art in a range of media from the gallery's own collection, including sculpture, painting, video and photography.
The announcement comes hot on the heels of the news that American artist James Turrell, world famous for his ground-breaking light installations, will be the subject of a major retrospective at the gallery over the summer.
Outgoing gallery director Ron Radford said he hoped that like Turrell, the space would bring a younger crowd to the gallery to see the latest from the contemporary art world.
He has always been critical of the space devoted to Australian art in the gallery itself, high up in what he has always referred to as the "attic".
"The space that we've got for Australian contemporary art is now the most compromised in Australia," he said. "It was never any good in 1982 when it opened, and since that time, each state gallery has built new galleries of Australian art.
"So we've got the worst space, that never was any good for Australian contemporary art, and now, 32 years later, it's dire."
The gallery by the lake was, at one stage, used an annexe for the National Portrait Gallery, which was then located in Old Parliament House.
Dr Radford, who at the time was deputy chair of the portrait gallery, said using the space had drawn attention to the size of the portrait collection, and helped the gallery lobby for a new building, which eventually opened in 2008.
And now, the National Gallery is gearing up to start lobbying for Stage 2 in its own major developments, a new wing devoted entirely to Australian art.
Getting Stage 2 off the ground will be one of the major challenges facing Dr Radford's yet-to-be-announced successor.
NGA Contemporary, which has been funded by private sponsorship, will fill the lakeside space until Stage 2 is complete, although Dr Radford said it was impossible to say when that would be.
"How long is a piece of string? You've got to pick the moment," he said.
"We understand the moment is not right, but people know about it and are talking about it. But no proper approach has been made and that's quite deliberate – our time will come. And we'll know it when it comes."
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