Archive for February, 2012

Interview with Dr Michael Brand, new director of the AGNSW

The Art Gallery of NSW has announced that Dr Michael Brand will take up the reins as the gallery’s director in mid 2012. Dr Brand replaces Edmund Capon, who retired as director in December 2011 after leading the gallery for an astonishing 33 years.

I interviewed Dr Brand about his appointment on the mornng of the announcement, by phone to Geneva. This is the edited transcript.

At the time you accepted this position, the National Gallery of Victoria was also seeking a new director. For you, was it a toss-up between the two positions?

It’s obviously a matter of interest when there are two positions available. I just make a point of not talking about other people’s searches. Speaking to Steven Lowy [president of the AGNSW board of trustees] and the board of trustees, it’s clear the AGNSW is in a really interesting and good position. It’s had a tremendously stable and creative leadership from Edmund Capon, very dedicated staff, public support and a very creative and focused board. They are looking for a genuine artistic director, and they are totally committed to scholarship. That’s a great place to be. We can build on success.

The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles disclosed your income when you were director there [US$900,000]. Did you have to take a pay cut to come back to Australia?

Yes, there’s a pay cut involved [Dr Brand will receive $445,000 per annum, which is about $200,000 more than Edmund Capon received. Dr Brand went on to explain that he didn’t see his career in terms of a “remuneration trajectory”. Rather, he was excited about living in Sydney and bringing up his family here.]

What can you say about your plans for the AGNSW?

It’s a little bit early for me to say anything. I need to get to Sydney, talk to colleagues there, and think about it in more depth. There is a plan in process which has recently begun, they’re thinking about the future. I need to join that process. The good thing is it’s a very well run institution, very popular. I don’t mean popular in a light way.┬áMuseums are meant to be popular, and people do go there. In the short term it’s a little bit of fine tuning. There are issues with staff. There are a number of members of staff who are probably approaching retirement. It’s thinking about those issues. Then there’s the exhibition planning, acquisitions, and longterm strategic planning. One of the reasons I’m so pleased to be going there is it is a dynamic organisation. It’s continued to make great strides forward. The Kaldor gift recently is of huge significance, and in a way the gallery has to digest that gift and see what it means. I suspect one of the things it means is the gallery, perhaps more than any other gallery in Australia, is poised with contemporary art to go totally global. That collection [the Kaldor gift] allows you to look at Australian art, North American art, European art and Asian contemporary art together. Perhaps we might, for example, look a bit more closely at contemporary art from the Islamic world. We may look at Central America or Latin America. If you’re going to deal with the Asian Pacific region, you can’t forget the Americas.

They [the staff of the AGNSW] are adventurous, they’re gutsy. They’ve generated most of their major exhibitions. They’ll do a major exhibition on abstraction [Paths to Abstraction]. That takes courage.

How do you see the role of the AGNSW and the [Sydney] Museum of Contemporary Art?

Like everyone else I have huge respect for [MCA director] Liz Ann Macgregor. I’m really looking forward to working with her. There are many ways we can collaborate. But in the field of contemporary art, a little bit of friendly competition isn’t a bad thing. It’s really good for a city to have more than one institution dealing with contemporary art [to provide different viewpoints].

Have you ever lived in Sydney?

No. I’ve lived in Canberra, Brisbane and Melbourne. I know [Sydney] moderately well. That’s very exciting in itself.

Do you like the beach?

I do love the beach; I almost never get there these days. And thanks for mentioning the beach. I’m sitting here in Geneva, and I’m about to go back to freezing Toronto.

Elizabeth Fortescue, February 12, 2012

Dr Michael Brand announced as new director of the AGNSW

Dr Michael Brand has been appointed the new director of the Art Gallery of NSW

Read the official announcement here.