New art, old art and a new book on John Glover

 This piece was originally published in January 2023

Viewing John Glover (the two in centre) at the AGNSW:

For this piece I wander from talking about a new book on John Glover to viewing works on the wall at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), to meandering through the AGNSW’s new building (Sydney Modern) and finally to the wonderful experience of visiting the AGNSW’s new art library.

This brings me to Ron Radford, National Gallery of Australia director from 2004 to 2014, who now lives in Hobart and last year published a book on an early colonial artist.

Reading Ron Radford’s new book on John Glover

The book John Glover: Patterdale Farm and the Revelation of the Australian Landscape is a result of Radford’s years of research on this nineteenth century artist, who arrived in Tasmania in 1831, aged 64 and resumed his established career mainly producing landscape paintings.

Radford’s commentary is great read. The story as told reflects on the author’s passion for the life and work of John Glover. The emphasis in the book is on the farm established by Glover south of Launceston and the high number of works he produced during his time there before his death in 1849.

Having read the book, I was keen to revisit Glover’s paintings. The National Gallery here in Canberra has about 12 paintings – with four listed as being on view. But as chance would have it, we were off to Sydney so I took the time to visit the Art Gallery of NSW to see two of their Glover paintings (image at the top).

The experience of looking at these works was better informed by reading Radford’s book. It is always a fruitful experience to take your time with selected artworks rather than trying to examine everything on exhibition.

Curiously the AGNSW mixes some contemporary works with the older artworks. This curatorial practice is fashionable – with themes being developed why certain works are together. This sort of works sometimes but for most of the time the connections are tenuous at best.

This part of the visit was within the older building of the gallery. The collection exhibitions at the AGNSW are definitely well worth the visit.

Then it was time to venture over to the very recently opened AGNSW’s Sydney Modern.

Foyer to the AGNSW’s new building

For some reason, the new building is not attached to the former. Visitors have to exit the first and meander down the street to the new – being mainly of steel and glass. My first impression was that going inside was more like entering a large metro station or an architecturally designed airports with many concourses leading off in several directions.

There are new galleries worth visiting – especially the space for indigenous collections. However, there is a lot of space that looks to be primarily designed for corporate events and other goings-on. I have reservations about the new building, presently titled Sydney Modern. Despite that I encourage art lovers to see the building and the exhibition spaces for themselves. The older AGNSW galleries will remain my destination for visits to Sydney.

The real gem during our visit was to go downstairs in the older building, to where the indigenous galleries used to be. That space has been revamped to house the fabulous AGNSW Art Library – complete with a generous space for parents and children to chill and read books.

The AGNSW children’s reading library

This is one gorgeous and very welcoming set of spaces. They welcome visitors to wander through (quietly) and enjoy the beautifully-designed art library. The library has several functions – a research library, national art archive and the children’s art library.

The design and layout of the children’s area is a benchmark for such institutional spaces. There has been no attempt to ‘activate’ this space as a play-centre. Parents and children were sitting around doing what you do in a library – reading books.

For anyone interested in architectural design, in how to get things right for an art library and the connected children’s space – put this on your list for your next visit to Sydney. There is to be a special garden space outside the library that is yet to be built.

All this was from enjoying Ron Radford’s September 2022 book on John Glover. A good fun way to start 2023, the year for having fun.


This article is a version of the piece originally published online with City News

Paul Costigan is a commentator on cultural and urban matters

Please comment (silly stuff will be trashed)- and use this to make contact - personal contact messages will not appear publicily

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *