Powering up: MCA Australia and University announce new partnership

7 June 2023
Three-year agreement deepens an intertwined history.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and the University's Power Institute have announced a new research partnership on contemporary art and visual culture.

The project’s bold ambition will establish a new way of conducting and presenting research on art and visual culture. Over three years, the two organisations will identify discrete research projects, digging into the MCA’s collection, exhibitions and archives, and informed by ideas emerging from the Power Institute’s new Visual Understanding Initiative.

Enabled by a donation from Penelope Seidler, the latter will include research into the science and technology of vision and the history and politics of vision in the Pacific. It will also explore themes of First Nations’ custodianship and museum practices.

The partnership aims to unearth new ideas and produce new ways of thinking that will inform both organisations’ ongoing work. It will feature public lectures, seminars and other events, as well as publications and digital offerings.

In 2023, for example, MCA Australia and the Power Institute will present Image Complex 2023, a free public lecture series bringing together leading thinkers of visual culture from around the world to discuss the subjects of art, visuality and power.

MCA Australia and Power Institute teams.

MCA AUSTRALIA with Lara Strongman, Suzanne Cotter, Director MCA Australia; Professor Mark Ledbury, Director Power Institute, University of Sydney; Marni Williams, Publications Manager Power Institute; Nick Croggon, Events and Programs Officer, Power Institute; Director Curatorial and Digital, MCA Australia; Jane Devery, Senior Curator Exhibitions, MCA Australia; and John Saxby, Publications, MCA Australia.

This partnership signifies a renewed alignment between the MCA Australia and the Power Institute, enlivening their shared history of research, interpretation and presentation of contemporary art for broad and diverse audiences.

Both organisations owe their existence to a bequest made in 1962 to the University of Sydney by alumnus and Australian expatriate artist John Joseph Wardell Power (1881–1943). The goal of the bequest was to connect the Australian public with the most important ideas in art and visual culture from around the world. This led to the creation of the Power Institute, the discipline of art history at the University of Sydney, a collection of international contemporary art and a dedicated museum to house it.

In 1991 that museum became the MCA, a leading museum of contemporary art dedicated to exhibiting, collecting, and engaging the work of living artists. The opening of the University of Sydney’s Chau Chak Wing Museum in 2020 gave its J W Power bequest greater visibility.

“This new partnership with the Power Institute is a natural fit for the MCA Australia which is a defining platform for contemporary art and ideas in Australia,” said Suzanne Cotter, Director Museum of Contemporary Art Australis.

“Our two institutions have a shared history through the vision of J.W. Power who believed in the power of art to broaden horizons and inspire artists and the broader public. We are thrilled to be able to bring together what MCA Australia and the Power Institute do best in making contemporary art a visible and accessible catalyst for research and understanding.”

MCA team

“This new partnership with the Power Institute is a natural fit for the MCA Australia which is a defining platform for contemporary art and ideas in Australia."

“We are delighted to be partnering with the MCA Australia on research initiatives that will explore fundamental questions of art and visual understanding in the twenty-first century,” said Power Institute Director Professor, Mark Ledbury.

“We’re all very much looking forward to working closely with the diverse and brilliant team of curators and staff at the MCA and our collaboration will focus on the vital role contemporary art practice plays in helping us understand how we see the world.”

The collaboration will include the Image Complex 2023 lecture series. Upcoming lectures in this series includes Krista Thompsons The Evidence of Things Not Captured; Christopher 'Dudus' Coke and the fugitive photograph in postcolonial Jamaica in August. In December Jack Halberstam will present All Fall Down: Post-Industrial Demolition Projects and the Aesthetic of Collapse, at MCA Australia.

Verity Leatherdale

Manager, Faculty Media and PR

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