Directors in conversation: Neal Benezra and Michael Brand

Directors in conversation: Neal Benezra and Michael Brand


– Welcome to the Art
Galley of New South Wales. For our inaugural Directors in Conversation event here on Wednesday’s Art After Hours where we’re going to immerse ourselves in the inside stories of activities at the gallery where the New South Wales Art Galley is looking ahead to transformation and a big project as you know called Sydney Modern. And our special guest from the San Francisco
Museum of Modern Arts is five years ahead of us having gone through a big renovation, a big transformation programme, and so we wan to hear a few insights from our special guest, Neal Benezra who’s joining us, as well as from Michael Brand about how we come to this point where we gather all the energy, the insight, the vision, the money, and deliver these projects, what sort of timing, what sort of reaction, what difference does it make, transformation is a big oft used word these days, we’re all in transformation mode, but galleries, art galleries, art museums, what are they these days? Are they just a matter of
pictures hanging on a wall? Are they village squares,
are they town centres, are they entertainment quarters? What is the role of an art
museum in the 21st century? So we’re about to find out from these wonderful art directors. So let’s welcome first of all, our very special guest from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Neal Benezra. Welcome. (applause) Thanks Neal. And also everybody, a man who needs no
introduction to all of us here at the Art Gallery
of New South Wales, our director, Michael Brand. Thank you Michael. (applause) So thank you everybody. Before I start I would like to just begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we gather here this evening, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation in this place we now call Sydney. And I pay my respects and our respects to elders past and present, and we thank them all. So welcome gentlemen. – Thank you.
– Thank you. – It’s good to have a
crowd to come and listen to a discussion about the work we do. How does it make you feel, Neal, having an audience here to hear the boss from San Francisco, the director across the water bridging that gap? It’s good to have you here. – It’s great to be in Sydney. Such a beautiful city. – Fabulous. And you’ve got a lot
of great story to tell. Tell us you just only two years ago, you emerged from a basic two 2 1/2 to three years closure while the San Francisco Museum
of Modern Artwas transformed. Just tell us a little
bit about what happened. – While we were closed? – No, generally just the project itself, how it came to be and so on. – So, our museum was founded in 1935 and by about 1995 we grew into a
building in a new location. And San Francisco is
a very prosperous city full of art enthusiasts, great collectors, and a lot of enthusiasm for our museum. So by the time I arrived
at the museum in 2002, it was very clear that we
needed to grow some more, that there’s greater art in our community and great programming, and we were really successful in a lot of different ways. So by around 2008 and nine, when the economy hit its absolute nadir, we wisely or unwisely decided we were gonna expand again. And it took us about five six years, but we got the museum
opened in May of 2016. And we had this hiatus because we had to close the museum for construction purposes for about 2 1/2 years. We decided we had to make lemonade out of the lemons that came our way, and so we reinvented
ourselves as SFMOMA On the Go, and we organised projects and exhibitions around the City of San Francisco and around the State of California to really reengage with our communities. – [Anne] ‘Cause you wanted
to keep that presence, you didn’t wanna be forgotten while this was all going on. – Couldn’t possibly disappear, but with very supportive board that supported this effort, we didn’t have a home, we were homeless for a couple of years, and so it gave us an
opportunity to rethink ourselves in a, I think, a really positive way. – And we’ll talk about the contrast between the museums as well because yours is fully private. – Fully private. – Whereas Michael, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is the New South Wales Art Museum, it is the repository for all
this wonderful collection, a billion dollar or more
collection of artwork here, and so a very different scenario. So the background to the
Sydney Modern project, just take us through that because that’s been many
years in the making as well. – We’re actually an older institution than the San Francisco
Museum of Modern Art. And I think people in Sydney often forget that we’re older than
most American art museums, but we all have very
very different histories. So we go back to 1870s and it was thought here that we had done all we could do within this building, so we needed more space, but it wasn’t just having more space, it was having different types of spaces. And I think that’s one
of the interesting things for me talking with Neal, and last year having a chance to go and see what they’ve done at SFMOMA, to see how we break out of
that traditional pattern of the permanent collection
galleries over there, they change every 10 years or so, temporary exhibition is downstairs, you change them every three months, and that’s what you do. Now I think we’re in an age where people expect much
more of art museums. But when they expect much more here, they’re also expecting their
government to support that. And as Anne said we’re a
public private organisation so we have achieved a great level of public support through the government, but we also have to
raise our private funds, but we don’t have to raise quite as much private funds as Neal had to in San Francisco. – Exactly and I think
what this leads me to is Neal has already mentioned
that it led to new thinking, this new project to build the new modern San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the next iteration of it meant that you had to have new thinking, create new projects, and so you also need to rethink about what the role of an art museum is. So did all of that happen
during those three years of On the Go before you then opened again? And I’m asking what’s
the role of a museum, a modern museum in the 21st century? – That 2 1/2 year period when we were without a home was an opportunity. We had really tried to turn it into a new opportunity
to rethink ourselves. And museums are changing. I think we’re becoming more explicitly public institutions. It used to be that a certain class of people would come to a museum. The museum would be
open between 11 and four so only certain people could come. And that’s past tense at this point. We’re now much more engaged. We’re not providing
respite from the world, we have to, I think, all
be engaged with the world. We want the world to come in with all the issues and challenges and opportunities that that means. We have to be fully engaged with the world and the community in which we reside. So we used that 2 1/2
years to really rethink what that meant and how we
in our choice of architect, in the way we programme,
our digital programme, it’s not just about the art anymore, I think we’re now trying to put people on the same plane as the works of art that we show. – And you said also the old museum was closed in in a way, and so an old building, and so to open it out
to the world fits with I think the ambition of the Art Gallery of New South Wales certainly, but that was part of the ambition as well? – The architects we hired for our project, a firm called Snohetta, a
Norwegian American firm, with virtually no experience
designing museums. We felt as though we could
be good museum clients. We had a pretty good sense of
what we wanted artistically. But what they brought us
and I have to say SANAA I think will bring to the Art Gallery the same sense of openness and welcome. There was a kind of transparency to our building and your design that I think will really serve the Sydney community really really well. – So tell us about the
spaces that you have if you can just give us a sense of what the exhibition spaces are like and what the public spaces are like, how much more space you have for what sort of activities. – So, because we’re a private museum, and we really have to generate
all of our own income, so we have to charge what I call, what I believe are rather high prices, $25 to come to the museum. So we decided early on that
it’d be really important to balance that with
having a lot of free space. So you come to the
museum and you wanna see our special exhibitions
and our collections, you pay the $25, but we have about 40,000 square feet at the ground level that anyone can come into. And we have got works of art
there and a lot of activity, educational programming, and restaurants, and so forth and so on, to try to balance the frankly high prices
of a museum ticket. – Michael, the philosophy
a bit similarly here, opening up spaces, making
more of that open public space as well as opening the doors
to galleries and exhibitions. – Yeah, definitely, and I think what’s happening with both our projects is we’ve actually embarked on our projects at a very very good time. I think some of the
earlier museum expansions including our ones here,
this one from 1972 and 1998, which are very fine
pieces of architecture, but by in large those
earlier expansions were building more of the same sorts of spaces, but with these sort of projects now, we can go beyond that, so we’re actually building
new types of spaces rather than just building more space, and certainly the SANAA
design for Sydney Modern is a much less hierarchical
type of building. I mean here, I mean, I love this building, but you walk into the columns, you walk into the front door, you have a very axial pathway right down the escalators. The new building will be
much more freeform than that. And I think that’s gonna
allow us to think differently about the sort of spaces
that the public encounters. But in general I think the
idea of having a building you can approach and you can
see people inside from outside, and that’s certainly something
that happens at SFMOMA where in that in MOMA’s public free
spaces which is there and people just get tempted from
a street, they can walk in. That’s a very very important thing for people who aren’t
traditional museum goers. And I think we, like all
our colleague museums, we’re trying to get to
broaden our audience. We love you all coming and it’s fantastic, but we know there are many people who don’t come as loyally as you do. And one of the things that puts them off is a very forbidding facade. You certainly had that in San Francisco with the Botta Building which is a great example of architecture, but is not, say, welcoming. This is a beautiful piece of late 19th century architecture, but for people who aren’t
used to museum buildings, particularly a lot of refugees
who have come from places where columns and pediments
mean police stations, central intelligence agency or whatever, we gotta rethink about what it would take to attract someone into a building who’s never been to a museum before. – And this is what? – No, go ahead. – No, this is what we’re talking about to where we were very
privileged last night, a few us to listen to Dr. Maria Balshaw who is the head of the
Tate museum in the UK, four times more successful
so far than the numbers that they originally had predicted. So this wonderful institution that many of you would know or have certainly been to has this open door. She talked about the open door policy, the policy of everything
being open on every side so that we all can enter these spaces and participate in the conversation, and may I say for those of us who are immersed in the art world. For people who haven’t
grown up in the art world she said this gives them more confidence, more opportunity to enter the art world because all of a sudden
it’s more inviting. Is that a sense that you get from this modern era of art museums? – I think absolutely, and as Michael was speaking, I think there’s a kind
of democratic character to our building and to your design. There’s a transparency
and a sense of welcome, and that the columns and
we have a big strong, if you know our building from 1995, it’s a big strong muscular building, but it really says stay out, don’t call us, we’ll call you, we’ve got good stuff in here, and we’ll let you know when
you can come and see it. Well, that doesn’t work anymore. It doesn’t work in the 21st century. And I think there’s a
kind of a democratic value to the architecture that we’re describing that it expresses certain kinds of values that we really need
our museums to express. – And there are certain global issue, isolation, lack of opportunity, those sorts of things that Maria was talking about last night. This is what galleries, another purpose for galleries of the 21st century, Michael? – Yeah absolutely. I mean I think public art museums are definitely a very
special sort of civic space. They’re basically non-commercial. In our case here in Sydney free of charge where people, you hope
people come to look it up, but you also hope people come to think, to be challenged, to talk to each other. And while I don’t think art museums should be just sort of illustrating current political issues
or economic issues or environmental issues, we’re more than just illustrators, but we should be able to
show art in a way that through visual language, we encourage people to think more deeply, and ideally we want to
engender conversations, and I think that’s where both our museums and many of our partners, it’s not just a curatorial
practise anymore, there is the public programmes theme, there’s the digital theme, and together they create the full museum experience. I mean I’m still super
happy if I see someone walking up to a painting by themselves, looking at the painting,
reading the label. That’s also fantastic. But I think we all know we can and should do more than that as well. – I think too that point Michael, Neal has a wonderful example about something we’ve been
through in recent years, the marriage equality debate, and you said that while we don’t wanna get
political as a gallery, we certainly can acknowledge
the times in which we live, so tell us a little bit
about the exhibition or how you approached that debate. San Francisco, it’s a big strong community as Sydney is, and so you inserted yourself
in that conversation. – And it was a very hot political issue. It’s a little bit less
so but it was on boil, maybe six seven years ago in San Francisco where we have a very large gay community. And marriage equality was
a very very big topic, and so we can’t be partisan, we can’t take sides but we can be engaged. So what we did was to mount a relatively small exhibition, really on one long wall in our galleries, and we commissioned a lot of work, we commissioned drawings, poetry, a number of different
expressions on the topic, mounted them on the wall, and people flooded to see that show, and it meant something in that community at that moment. It was very very timely, and it said to me that it’s fundamentally important for us to be engaged in our times. We’re not apart from the world, we’re part of the world, and we let the world in. – And Michael similar approach here, these new spaces will give us more than ample opportunity to participate, be a part of, acknowledge, and so on issues of the time and globally and even and locally. – Yeah and also in new
museums in particular, it isn’t just about the pure
gallery spaces which we need, we need beautiful gallery spaces where you can hang works
with controlled lighting, and proper ceiling
heights and all the rest, but it’s often the in between spaces where the community gathers first, and they sort of come together and they talk before or
after looking at art. I think one of my so proudest moments here at the gallery was
two or three years ago, two or three weeks ago, sorry, on a late Wednesday night, we had Queer Out After Hours right after the Mardi Gras, we had something like 4,000
people after five o’clock, and you felt there was a
whole marriage equality thing so done and dusted, that this was a real celebration, the community was coming
up to a public art space, a public space and they’re
having a great time, and it was at the Art
Gallery of New South Wales, and while they were doing it, they were looking at art. Neal, we’ve had some great experiences, we have had drag queens leading
tours of the collection. To me it was a really perfect example of a public institution and a community coming together, but we’re not sort of just sort of trying to attract
them in to get the numbers, it is also to have a
genuine experience here, and we think that our collection, both contemporary and historical is very relevant to many communities, and particularly at that moment, it was a great time to talk
about issues through art. – A very difficult balance I imagine where we have a big collection at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, our own collection is wonderful. We don’t see enough of it, we’ll see more of it in this new building, but walking that fine line between showing the collection we hauled, but also then having visiting
exhibitions and all this, how do we manage that in
galleries of the future? It’s not just a matter of coming in and seeing exhibition only and paying your ticket, it’s more about the
broader experiences, is it? – Yes, I think for us, our temporary exhibition space is just not big enough, they’re not big enough, they’re not tall enough to do all the shows we like. For some shows they work beautifully. I think anyone who saw the recent Rembrandt and the Dutch
Golden Age Exhibition, I hope you’d agree that was
a beautiful exhibition design and a wonderful experience, but there are shows we can’t do. Part of the challenge
with big exhibitions now is architectural or spatial, and we’ll certainly be able to do some even more ambitious
shows in the new building. But talking to Neal and other colleagues, there are other very practical issues which are really making you wonder is this where we should
be spending all our money? I mean we have a wonderful system of state government indemnity, so basically the New South
Wales state government indemnifies or ensures these
loan exhibitions we bring in. Neal can tap into some of that in the US, but you’re saying that that’s
one of the biggest problems, it’s not just borrowing their works, it’s paying the insurance. – The insurance value is based on, we’re constantly reading about some new auction in New York or London where some painting goes for 100 million dollars, 200 million dollars, when it comes time to borrow those pictures for an exhibition, the owner places a fair market value in terms of the insurance
value of that work, and we have to pick up the insurance, the premiums for this, and it’s becoming unaffordable. So one of the things I’m
beginning to think about as we’re in a position
now where we can make it because our collection has
grown in number and quality pretty profoundly in the last five years, but does it make sense for us to mount these kinds of exhibitions where we’re spending so
much money on insurance? And the other thing is I’m
beginning to think that we have a very youthful
audience in San Francisco, 45% of our visitors are
35 and under which is– – [Anne] So that 45 is
45% of visitors to your, are 35 and under. – Which is beautiful ’cause it speaks well for the future. – That’s fantastic. – But those younger people
wanna come to a museum for different reasons than
perhaps their parents did or an older generation did. They’re less interested, we’re finding, in coming to see a
retrospective exhibition where you trace the
development of an artist from their youth to their later career. They’re interested in more
immersive kind of experiences, maybe less interested in the specific art object or the specific artist, they’re interested in coming to the museum to be with their friends,
to be engaged socially, and I don’t mean in a party kind of sense, to be engaged with people. They wanna be together. – Is it this human moment
thing that we’re seeking with technology all around us. – With technology all around
us and everything now, and I’m sure it’s the
same here in Australia, everything can be delivered to your home either online or in person. And when people go out, they wanna be engaged, they wanna be immersed in some kind of an experience. And I think we’ve gotta be venues for that kind of activity. – And so what have you done to actually attract that audience, bring them in, what different things have you taken to market, yeah? – So knowing that our
audience is so young, we made an exhibition this past fall which was called Soundtracks, and it was organised by
our media arts curator, and if you walked in, you would not see a single static silent work of art hanging on a wall. Everything was immersive
in one way or another. It was about sound, it
was about moving image. Absolutely untraditional
work exhibition of art as it’s being defined today. As I mentioned earlier at the same time we had a retrospective of the work of Robert Rauschenberg, classic contemporary artist, great figure. We have a big collection to show, it come from the Tate and the Modern, all the things that traditionally a museum would want to
mount in an exhibition. Well, the attendance
for the Soundtrack show exceeded the attendance
for the Rauschenberg show, to my shock. And there’s a lesson in that. We have to think about the next generation of audience, we need to think about different kinds of experience in a museum, not just hanging those walls,
the paintings on the walls, but thinking about how people
interact in an art space. – How important is this, Michael, yes, you’re about to say
something I’m sure so go head. – Well, I just wanted to
reflect on what Neal said about with, say, often the younger audiences perhaps looking for more
immersive experiences rather than, say, a
chronological narrative of one artist’s career or one movement. And that maybe what we
have to think about more is how do we show, give a
more immersive experience of historical art because
certainly in this museum, I mean you’re basically, so, post Second World War
in most of what you do. We are both historical and contemporary, but perhaps that’s the
exhibition of the future, The Lady and the Unicorn, where you borrow six
extraordinary works of art, and you make an installation
which is immersive in itself, you walk in, you don’t have
to go through 10 rooms, following a trail of 150 labels, you just get in there and you are immersed in these extraordinary tapestries dating from about 1500 in Paris. So it’s actually a very
interesting moment where we know there’s an
interest in art museums, I mean they’re hugely
popular around the world, we know there’s an interest in art, people are more visually literate, but we can get to experiment, we don’t have to just keep on doing Monet and summer Monet and spring. I saw one out that was originally
Monet and Architecture, and there was a little sort
of a little heart on a cliff, thinking I don’t think he was actually that interested in architecture, was he? – [Neal] That’s pretty thin. – That’s pretty thin, yeah. – This collaboration between art directors the world over seems to be gathering a little bit of momentum. I mean you all know each other I’m sure around the world, but building the bridges I think, certainly Michael for us here in Australia back over to the US and into
other parts of the world, is this part of a collaborative
effort that maybe museums were all looking to
participate in in the future? – Yeah, this is something I’ve been interested in for a long time. I mean when I was back
at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra a long time ago, we organised long-term loans
from a Shanghai museum, again trying to get away from the model that the only way you can show art is if you buy it and own it, and that just, buying everything you wanna show is just no longer possible, and it’s not just historical art, it’s contemporary art as well. We have actually quite
similar acquisition budgets, and while we do buy some good stuff, it’s smaller numbers if you rely just on your actual budget. So I think it’s looking at different ways of bringing art to people, and one is through
partnerships and alliances. I don’t think there’s been, we haven’t quite found
the perfect model yet, but a number of us are talking about ways where we can share the
collections more easily. When I was at the Virginia
Museum of Fine Arts, we belong to a group called FRAME, French Regional American Museum Exchange. So basically it was museums
in France and America that weren’t in New York
City, Washington, or Paris. And we basically just, we
lend things all the time. That was a very interesting model but it got probably a bit too big. But I think that smaller groups can work out ways where we can just send things back when
suppose we have to share. There’s no other way
of bringing to you all the sort of work you’d like to see if we rely on buying them. And even just paying large fees to borrow exhibitions from distinguished art museums, that’s very problematical too. – And Neal had a wonderful, I think a very pioneering
initiative in the US where you share the purchase price, share the cost between other museums which is quite a clever way
of doing it for it works. – The whole tradition of western
museums has been predicated on a particular institution
in a particular community, building a collection, and having a kind of ownership of one’s collection overtime. And the model worked I think pretty well for a long time, but I think these days we’re thinking differently about this. There’s no reason why we
can’t co-own works of art. And so we’ve been pretty aggressive about this in the last few years. And we’ve co-acquired works with the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, Art Institute of Chicago, Walker Art Centre, and there could be a lot more of this because there’s no real reason why we have to own a museum, a work of art in a singular way. Why not co-own it and co-acquire it, and share it back and forth? – This also let’s get on to the matter of building collections and so on. And so for you, Neal, a private art museum
needs huge benefaction. We know about the USA, big money, big benefaction, but tell us a bit about
the support you got. There were, I mean, it’s
long-term engagement I know, but when you had this new
project on the drawing board, you obviously had to wait
until you had the money, but also you had to then get some engagement with
those big supporters, the family who own GAP
Clothing came to the floor, you had a campaign for art. So a couple of these
initiatives that came together but with this incredible support, they’re obviously persuaded
by the vision you had to expand and transform anyway. – So I’m really blessed to
be working in San Francisco which is a very, not only
a very prosperous city, it’s a city that really values innovation, and it’s a very philanthropic city. So we’ve long had a
history of great collectors of modern but especially
contemporary art in our city. And we faced kind of an
interesting challenge which, but I think we turned
it into an opportunity, in that we needed to raise a lot of money to build our museum and to endow it, because again we don’t
have government funding. – [Anne] Tell us about the numbers just while you’re going through this. – Well, we raised about
600 million dollars, about half of it to build the building, and again because we
don’t, we have very little, I mean just a few hundred thousand dollars in total of government support, we had to raise a lot
of money for endowment, from which we could draw at
an annual basis at a 5% rate. So that underpins our operations. So we had to raise quite a lot of money, not just to build the building, but to ensure that our
financial stability was secure, but at the same time, because there are so many great collectors in our community, we were able to persuade
families, individuals to either promise works of art contractually to the museum or give them outright. And there was a tremendous amount of enthusiasm about this. And I think about 3,000 works of art have come to us in the
last six or seven years. – Yes, tell us about this
family because that’s quite, it’s a hundred-year lease of a collection of about a
thousand paintings from– – So this is a couple in San Francisco named Doris and Donald Fisher, they founded GAP, and built one of the great collections of contemporary art really in the world, and collected really fortuitously
selected great artists, and collected them in great
depth and great quality. So 25 Warhols and 23 Gerhard Richters. – Deep envy, deep envy.
– On and on and on. No problem. So what we did was what’s happened in our country is that because we just don’t have
much money to buy art with, we’re dependent upon these gifts. So what has happened is as
some of these collectors of major quantity and quality have gotten to the point
where they really felt, so they didn’t wanna just hand over their collection to the local museum, and they’ve started to found
private museums all their own. And so this become an issue
for us because we need those, that benefaction to come to the museums. So we have to be a little more innovative in the way we work with people. So with the Fisher family, long time trustees of the museum, we invented something that hasn’t really been tried before, and that is the works of art go into a foundation collection, the foundation collection
is on deposit with us contractually for a minimum of 100 years. It was accompanies by a major capital campaign gift
to build the building. And at the end of that 100-year period, we have the option to
renew the relationship which I’m sure we’ll do. So thinking outside the box.
– That’s so great. – In terms of the way these
works of art can come to us. – And the agreement to on what
you use and when and so on, so there are all those
sort of terms as well? – It’s complicated. – Yeah. But the family sort of, it’s been a great result, right? I mean you’ve turned it into a, is it a terrific experience
from their point of view? – I think it’s been widely successful. And the interesting
thing about it for me was when we made this deal, I was afraid that it would forestall, because it was such a big gift, that it would forestall
gifts from other collectors. And in fact it inspired
people to be more generous because people could see there was something exciting happening, and they wanted to be part of it. – And you also had a campaign for art which ran in parallel as
the gallery was being built. And so calling for donations
from just far and wide. – I think there were about 225 people contributed collections. – And there, what, about 3,000 works? – About 3500 works totaling. – And that would require a bit of curatorial discipline I imagine. Can you accept everything
without being a bit. – Well, that’s another story. I need my curators to be
a little more disciplined. – Okay. – Curators tend to want everything. – Yes, of course. – Everything that they
can get their hands on. And a little curatorial connoisseurship would be in order sometimes. – It’s something I’m sure we
deeply envy, Michael, here. We have great benefactors, yes. We have certainly wonderful
collections with whom we work, but the bigger picture
from our point of view looking ahead how are we going to? – Well, I mean, this art museum has actually done very very well with benefaction. And some of our earliest
acquisitions in late 19th century were through basis of
campaigns for private support. We’ve had major gifts along the way, perhaps the John Kaldor Family Collection being the most significant one recently, about, what, 15 years or so ago. And again whether you’re
in the US or Australia, that you can only build
collections with private support. We get no government support for
acquisition programme at all, we used to for the first 120 years or so, but since 1991 no state support for that, so we also rely on public donations. But that’s a good thing too because, and I think when your
community has sort of basically bought into the institution
by donating to it, whether it’s support, whether it’s cash as well works of art, is a very special relationship, and it becomes more for
the government department, it becomes a publicly
sort of owned institution. And I think it really is
important to keep promoting that. I mean everyone is entitled to build a private museum if they want to, and there are some wonderful
examples around the world. In MONA in Tasmania
everyone loves going there. But there is something very particular about this sort of place where you are this evening where we have a publicly owned collection that you own that we research, we publish, we develop school programmes around, and that you tend to do more if you have either own them outright or if you know they’re gonna be there for at least a hundred years, you can build a programme around them. So short-term ones are great, but I think to be a wonderful
public art institution, you do need to have that core of work so you can build your programme around it. – And building that programme also is part of the collaboration where you have with government too at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, because in the end it’s
a very competitive space. The money may have been
raised by the government, but it was to go to many things including sports stadiums or galleries or, so there’s competitive space of the rush or the grab for funding, so we did very well, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, I think to extract quite a lot of funding, knowing that we also have to raise money, but this is a very difficult
and competitive space, what sort of thinking, how do we keep the government
on our side, Michael? – I mean we’re often sort of quite envious of our American colleagues, and we think of their giant endowments and their huge gifts, but when I talk to my American colleagues about getting for Sydney Modern project, it came in from the state
government of New South Wales of 244 million dollars, none of my American colleagues would get anything like
that from a government. I think Los Angeles County Museum of Art for their new 800 million dollar campaign, I think they’ve got
about 150 million dollars from LA County. That is highly unusual in the US. So in one way we’re very
very lucky to have that, and that is a very
interesting relationship because it does actually mean that you will actually
do own the collection, but we have to look at
different ways of doing things, and just to step back for a minute to this idea of joint ownership, I don’t know if you’re
all aware that yesterday the MCA announced their round
three of special relationship they have with Tate in London where they’re jointly acquiring works of contemporary Australian art that’ll belong to MCA and Tate and there’ll be a show in London which is a fantastic thing
for Australian artists, but also even more so, a fantastic thing for audiences in London who’ll get to experience Australian art. – And important to say that
that’s funded by Qantas. – Yes, and Qantas will fly the
works backwards and forwards which is a pretty good deal too. – Oh it’s quite extraordinary. – ‘Cause for us to own
things jointly in Sydney, nice idea but if you try to bring a Jeff Koons out from San Francisco, that’s gonna probably undermine
the financial benefit. – But I see this collaboration, and Neal and I spoke earlier about this. Neal the collection,
say, in San Francisco, yours is American work in
1935 into the gallery so it’s a certain era, and so therefore this is part of you now looking, the essence is to look
further beyond your borders and across your oceans and so on and so, where do you think you could take your next generation of
collecting or engagement? – It’s one of the reasons I’m here. – Of course. – No, and the good thing about our institution like other institutions is we’ve been beneficiaries
of tremendous generosity in terms of the works of
art that have come to us, but at the same time that generosity is based on the collecting habits and interests of our private, individuals in our community. So in our particular case, in the United States
in the 80s and the 90s, there was a great passion for I would call Western European and North American art, and we have great collections, as I mentioned Warhol
and Richter and Kiefer and Ellsworth Kelly
and so on and so forth, and that’s great, but it’s also limiting, it’s largely a collection of male artists, it’s not a terribly diverse collection, it is not at all as
international as it needs to be. And so our next big step
is to really confront this, and it’s hard to do that because of the cost of works of art of the quality I’m describing to fill in those gaps, but we really wanna lean
into the 21st century and think much more internationally, and it has to be a much
more diverse collection, although we were very good in terms of gender representation in
our special exhibitions, we’re not so good in our collection, we’ve gotta do some work there. And we’ve been having meetings and talking a lot about what can be done, and we really are thinking
a lot about Latin America because California will be
largely Spanish speaking in the next, say, five or 10 years, and we really wanna think
a lot about Asia Pacific. We wanna really, I
think we’d be darn fools not to take advantage of
our geographical location and really point it toward Asia. And we need to be thinking not just toward New York
and London and Paris, but thinking about Sydney
and Hong Kong and Shanghai. – Fabulous. And as Maria Balshaw said last night, also reflecting the diversity of the community in which we live, so we exist in this
community, Sydney, Australia, even as locally as this eastern
side of the city of Sydney, what do we represent, so that’s forming part
of the thinking as well as we look ahead, Michael. – Absolutely, and my
feeling is that art museums, their strongest relationship
is with the city rather than a country. But it’s interesting again listening to Neal speak over the last couple of days, and at SFMOMA you talked about you’ve got a special
interest in Californian art, and then you talked about
Western European art, growing interest in Asia, the Pacific, but you don’t really
talk about American art. We’re in Australia and it
stopped me when I was introducing Neal to a sort of staff
workshop this afternoon. We divide our institution, basically we have a
division for Australian art, a division for international art, where you don’t really have, you don’t interest yourself particularly in what American about art at the moment, do you? – No, we really try not to think that way. I mean it’s interesting. I mean do you see that
changing going forward? That distinction? – It probably will but I
think that’s just partly because we are in a changed
environment here too where frankly no one else is
gonna do Australian art if we didn’t do it. And we’ve done it very well, and we’re very proud of our collections, but it is something where you can get trapped into, you keep
doing the same things. That seems very logical to have
at a part an Australian art, and then you, but as you
move into contemporary artist where you’re in much more a universal process, and also what I’ve always loved about the Art Gallery of New South Wales is beyond about 1980s or 1970s. We’ve always shown all the art together, we had never had a gallery for
contemporary Australian art next to a gallery for
international contemporary art, but I think we do have a responsibility to show the history of Australian art to Australians and to
international visitors, but beyond a certain point
I think you realise that it’s all just really good art hopefully. – I think it’s important if I’m coming from the
States or any place else to be able to come to the Art
Gallery of New South Wales and learn something about Australian art, because as you say we don’t
have it in our country. Just as the same way
if someone from Sydney comes to San Francisco, we have a very particular tradition of art-making in our part of the country. It’s really very important, and we believe in this and we act on it, that you be able to see
what’s the best work that’s been made in our community. So we don’t organise ourselves that way but we feel the same
commitment that you do. – We are getting close to
the end of this conversation. We’re getting the wind up, we’ve been having a lovely conversation, so I think in conclusion, you’ve just talked, it illustrates that we have an educational role
certainly at galleries, but we also have a role to
open up the conversation, open up the opportunities, and open up, free people,
and get them thinking, and engaging and conversing and talking and challenging
them and so and so. I think in conclusion, Neal, the art gallery, the art museum of the future, what can we look forward to just in summary what is it looking like? I know we’ve summarised it
a bit but it’s generally– – [Michael] Small question. – Yeah. – I think what I’m looking forward to is the opportunity for our
museum and for other museums to really engage in a more open way, beyond the collectors, and we can’t make programmes just for the art-interested audience because there’s a real limit to that. We have to and I think
that you express this in your architecture and your
programme and everything you do, we’ve got to programme in
a way and think in a way that will engage all sorts of people, all kinds of classes of people, all kinds of groups of people, and be really truly
democratic institutions. – I think that’s a wonderful
summary, don’t you? And Michael, your sense of the future. – I think in some ways you’re probably asking the wrong people because really it’s the
artists we should be asking, because in 25 years’ time our
museums are gonna be full of the art that artists now are
making over the next 25 years, and we don’t know what
they’re gonna be making. – [Anne] But don’t we ask
the audiences as well though? – And the audience as well. We would be nimble and
open and responsive enough to reflect what artists are doing, and what audiences wanna see now. I think there is definitely the curatorial role for the art museum. It isn’t just showing what
people think they want, we’re also trying to challenge
you and showing you things that we know that you actually
will not like probably when you see them first, but we hope we can build an environment in many ways where
you’ll at least trust us because you’re in a fantastic
architectural space, you’ll trust us to look at those works, and perhaps think about them more deeply, perhaps come to love them and admire them. But I think it’s much more
of a partnership now between sort of the museum professionals, the artists, and you as audience, and the way you want to experience art. And we presume now you
don’t just wanna be taught that you wanna have a different sort of more interesting relationship. – It’s about that role, relationship. – Yeah cross-borders, all that. Michael Brand we’re opening in 2021. – Late 2021. (laughing) – So that whole full experience is about to emerge and unfold. So thank you, Michael Brand, and also thank you Neal Benezra. Fabulous to have you from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Thank you everybody for joining us here this evening. (applause)

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