On the Couch with Edmund Capon AM OBE

Edmund Capon AM OBE oncWho is Edmund Capon?  
Well, not really sure… but his favourite artists he would say are probably Giovanni Bellini, Cy Twombly, Wang Yuanqi and Bill Henson (out of a couple of hundred  or so); he would declare that football (proper football that is – round ball) is more than a matter of life and death; that he has lived and breathed China for decades; and that he eats parmesan cheese.

What would you do differently to what you do now? 
Play the cello.

Who inspires you and why?
Everybody… in their own way.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
Ban joggers and zealots.

Favourite holiday destination?
The Buddhist cave temples of Dunhuang.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take then to?
Where am I? Sydney? Probably the botanic gardens.

What are you currently reading?
Tolstoy Anna Karenina and Ishiguro (with Montaigne always at the ready)

What are you currently listening to?
Wagner Tannhauser

Happiness is?
Chelsea beating Arsenal

What does the future hold for you?
Whatever…

Edmund George Capon commenced his museum career at a commercial gallery in London whilst a student at the Courtauld Institute of Art. In 1966, he began his career at the Victorian and Albert Museum. Having completed an MPhil in Chinese art and archaeology (including language) from London University’s Department of Oriental and African Studies, he was appointed assistant keeper in the Far Eastern Section of V&A in 1973.

Acknowledged as a specialist in his field, he undertook three cultural tours to China between 1974 and 1978. It was during the first of these tours in Xian that he witnessed the initial diggings which revealed the entombed warriors. In 1976, he was commissioned by the Australia Council and Art Exhibitions Australia to write and publish a book, Art and Archeology in China. The book was an accompaniment to The Chinese Exhibition: a selection of recent archaeological finds of the People’s Republic of China which toured the state galleries of Victoria, NSW and South Australia in 1977.

Mr Capon took up his appointment as Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales in November 1978 following his arrival from London where, for the previous five years, he held the position of Assistant Keeper, Far Eastern Section, Victoria and Albert Museum.  He stepped down as director on 23 December 2011.

Mr Capon attained a Master of Philosophy Degree in Chinese Art and Archaeology (including language) from London University’s Department of Oriental and African Studies with his thesis entitled: The Inter-dependence of Chinese Buddhist Sculpture in Bronze and Stone from AD386 to 581, and is a recognised world expert in his particular field.

In October 2003 Mr Capon opened the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ newly rebuilt Asian galleries.  This major building project has created two levels of greatly enhanced and expanded exhibition space for the Gallery’s Asian collection, as well as space for touring exhibitions of Asian art.  In May 2011 Mr Capon opened 3,300 square metres of new and refurbished modern and contemporary galleries, which includes dedicated display space for the Kaldor Family Collection.

Mr Capon is a Visiting Professor in the School of Languages and Linguistics, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, University of New South Wales; is on the Board of the St James Ethics Committee; has written extensively on the arts of China; written and presented a 3-part ABC TV-China Central Television co-produced documentary entitled Meishu: Travels in Chinese Art which has been distributed worldwide; developed the AGNSW as a centre for Asian art display and education; created the Gallery’s highly successful Foundation, a Capital fund, to acquire works for the Collection; has curated exhibitions encompassing Asian, European and Australian art; has written extensively on Chinese art & archaeology and on the work of artists such as Jeffrey Smart, Caravaggio and Giacometti. His three-part documentary entitled The Art of Australia was co-produced by the BBC and ABCTV Australia in 2013.

Mr Capon’s most recent non-Gallery publication is a collection of essays entitled I Blame Duchamp: My Life’s Adventures in Art which was published in November 2009 by Penguin Australia. He was awarded the Doctor of Letters honoris causa from the University of NSW in 2000 and from Macquarie University in 2010. He was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1994 and received an OBE and Centenary Medal in 2003, and has been honoured by the governments of Britain, France, and Italy for his contribution to art and culture. In 2014, Mr Capon was appointed Chair of the Board of 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art.

Mr Capon has curated the exhibition, The Triumph of Modernism currently on display at the Tarrawarra Museum of Art until 16 August 2015. For more information, visit: www.twma.com.au for details.

Image: Edmund Capon AM OBE

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