Progress on the Chau Chak Wing Museum took an appropriately seasonal turn at Christmas – the exterior was ‘unwrapped’, revealing for the first time the distinctive cantilevered concrete box structure. Among other elements, the box contains the 6.5m high ceilings of the 420sqm temporary gallery. The removal of the external scaffolding and fabric screening is one the most profound moments in the building’s progress to date, as we saw, for the first time, the crisp proportions nestled within the frame of the existing trees.
Similarly, the removal of the internal forest of metal propping revealed the impressive volume of the internal galleries, with plywoodreinforced plasterboard walls that will provide the strength to hang art and attach internal exhibition joinery and cases. Double-height floor-to-ceiling glass is being installed on the eastern spaces and around the western entrance foyer and shop. Recent tours of the building site have been met with enthusiasm and delight by architecturally informed benefactors such as Dr Chau and Penelope Seidler AM.
Another milestone these past few months has been the engagement of the exhibition construction fabricators, who will build the display fit out, including partition walls, bespoke case joinery, and plinths. The successful tenderer, Art Services NSW, comes with excellent credentials and experience at other institutions including the White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale. The period leading to the public opening will be intense, as we coordinate a maelstrom of scheduled activities including the installation of joinery, assembling and preparation of objects and mounts, ongoing conservation, marketing campaigns, graphic and label production, and showcase deliveries and install.
The final and most exciting stage will be the installation of objects, ranging from the nearly 4-tonne Hathor capital to delicate mounted birds and multi-element artworks. Four installation teams will begin work in June, across the four gallery levels, to deliver, place, identify and contextualise each object within the 17 exhibitions. We are expecting long weeks, extended nights, and multiple pizza deliveries!
We look forward to welcoming you to the Chau Chak Wing Museum in just a few months, by which time the long journey of erecting the building and installing the exhibitions will be eclipsed by the thrill of hosting visitors in a new cultural institution in the landscape of Sydney. We are optimistic that this raised profile, combined with additional staffing, weekend opening, and free entry, will allow us to share the 160-year-old collections of the University in ways and numbers beyond the dreams and hopes of its original, and ongoing, benefactors.
This article was written for the forthcoming May issue of Muse Magazine.
Dr Paul Donnelly is Deputy Director of the Chau Chak Wing Museum.