UOW Art Collection: Cultural treasures and contemporary icons

It’s the richness of any art collection that makes the whole more important than any one individual star.



Story By

Julie-Ann Jeffrey

Photos By

UOW Art Collection

If you slow down and take a walk across UOW’s campus you’ll notice art by some of the most defining artists of the region.  It’s hard to work out who’s the star of the UOW Art Collection – from Indigenous abstracts, traditional landscapes and photographic works to large site-specific sculptures.

“Seeing the works across campus definitely adds to the cultural life of everyone here,” notes Karen Cass, UOW Collections Manager. “Not only does it look great and feel good, it really adds to our environment and enhances student and staff health and wellbeing.”

The UOW Art Collection consists of 5,000 artworks, predominantly from the 1970s onwards, and includes paintings, prints, ceramics and textiles along with a number of celebrated outdoor sculptures. The University has been actively acquiring works since the late 70s and the collection has some outstanding examples of Indigenous and contemporary Australian art.

The collection brings together work that is not only relevant to the region but is part of the national cultural dialogue. Ranging in scale from intimate to monumental, the collection provides an overview of diverse regional and contemporary practices in Australia and New Zealand. It also captures in part the physical and social landscape of the Illawarra – part urban, part sub-urban, part wilderness.

“Items in the collection are important for object-based learning where students develop their own interpretation of material,” Cass says. “And not just arts students, in future our medical and law students may deepen their understanding of Indigenous and cultural issues by studying works in the collection.”

From its inception the collection has been in active use. There are 1,250 works currently installed across the UOW campuses in lecture theatres, public spaces and staff areas. They’re also loaned for exhibitions to other institutions locally and nationally and used by researchers, scholars and students.

“The collection benefits our whole community,” explains the Collections Manager. “We’re actively preserving the collection for use by schools and scholars, we’re helping showcase artists from our region and we’re conserving a major Australian cultural asset for future generations.”

A large majority of the collection is composed of works on paper. Works on paper include prints (silkscreen, lithograph, serigraph, etc.), drawings, photographs, collages, and watercolours. For that reason, climate-controlled storage is an important part of preserving them.

“We’ve been busy upgrading our climate-control storage and securing more fragile works,” Cass says. “UOW collection staff are not only responsible for the care, maintenance, conservation, and documentation of the art collection, they’re also in charge of digitisation so the artworks can be seen online.

“We’ve just completed digitising our first 100 works. The process is ongoing, there’s data to clean up and hundreds of artworks to photograph before we upload more.”

Alchemy of the Heart, Claire Beausein, 2017

It’s a time-consuming and costly process, with copyright fees payable to artists and copyright agencies, records to sift through and images to shoot.  The first 100 works which have been digitised are now accessible via the UOW website.

Salivating Croc, Ian Gentle, 2007

The art works chosen, include acclaimed artists such as Michael Callaghan, Elisabeth Cummings, Bert Flugelman, James Gleeson, Michael Johnson, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Ron Lambert, Lindy Lee, Tracey Moffatt, Robert Klippel, Lloyd Rees, Guy Warren, Judy Watson and Philip Wolfhagen.

Marrnyula Mununggurr, Djapu Miny’tji, 2009

To continue digitising and caring for the collection, the UOW Cares staff giving program is raising funds to help bridge the gap and keep the UOW art collection active.

“Many staff giving small amounts has a huge impact,” explains Clare Rhodes, UOW’s Community Engagement Coordinator. “For example, a $2.50 weekly donation goes a long way over one financial year towards digitising several art works.”

cOZMOS, Jelle Van Den Berg, 2009

Tucked away in unassuming corners of campus, the art collection tells many stories, revealing portraits of people and places in our region. Stories told by emerging and established artists in a variety of media that captures our cultural sensibilities.

It’s the richness of any art collection that makes the whole more important than any one individual star. Although you may just find a new favourite next time you take a slow walk across campus.


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