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  • Jun 26, 2013

QAGOMA to Bridle Blockbusters

Chris Saines, director of QAGOMA, 2013. Courtesy QAGOMA.

Chris Saines has completed his first month as the new director of the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), following the five-year tenure of former director, Tony Ellwood. Under Ellwood’s direction, the gallery became the most visited in the country, with admissions peaking in 2010 at 1.8 million. These numbers were achieved in large part by the museum's blockbuster exhibitions, which included "Valentino, Retrospective: Past/Present/Future." Today, however, the new director faces an austere economic climate and conservative government. The museum could encounter further challenges when the Queensland state government sets its budget this month.

“Whenever governments change, the arts policy changes and shifts around,” Saines said in a recent interview with AAP. “I’m not seeing anything to cause alarm, but nor am I feeling utterly relaxed and seeing a tap turned on full.”

At QAGOMA, Saines, who was the previous director of the Auckland Art Gallery in New Zealand, will reevaluate the blockbuster exhibition model. Instead of putting on high-profile shows, he hopes to more fully utilize the gallery’s own rich collection. Saines recognizes that these future exhibitions will not rake in the visitor numbers of the previous five years. “The gallery was operating in a singularly different economic climate during that period, which it was able to exploit,” he said.

Before coming to Australia, Saines admits to being puzzled by the exclusivity of Australian institutions, with each state art gallery preferring to be the single venue for an exhibition, rather than touring the exhibition to other Australian galleries. “But now [that] I am here, I understand how it is driven by tourism and event dollars. But the truth is our budget is never going to be as much as we want it to be—that goes without saying. We must be very creative . . . ”

Saines sees the future as being one of collaboration between galleries, both state-wide and internationally. “I have come to the gallery at a time when the season has shifted, and it is going to take time to work through with the board [on] how we are going to reposition the gallery in this changed climate.” 

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