AGSA 500 – A Story of excellence, generosity and beauty

AGSA Takaya Koho Untitled Wind God and Thunder God after Ogata K?rinThe Art Gallery of South Australia has unveiled AGSA 500 – a landmark publication that celebrates 500 key works of art in the state’s collection.

Owned by the people of South Australia, the Art Gallery of South Australia collection is a collective marvel. Established in 1881 and nourished through great ambition, care and generosity, the AGSA collection is today one of the largest and most significant in Australia.

This new publication, and many of the acquisitions it highlights, has been made possible through the generosity of the late M.J.M Carter AO, who passed away in January 2024. Max as he was known, gave generously to help grow the collection over many decades.

Max was dedicated to sharing AGSA’s collections remarkable stories with the people of South Australia and beyond and aspired to ensure his home state remained at the forefront of cultural engagement and excellence. Today, the Gallery’s collections are a testament to the potent and transformative power that individuals can have on art and society.

AGSA 500 highlights a selection of this remarkable collection. Arranged broadly within three groupings – Australian, Asian and International art – and spans the Gallery’s seven curatorial areas: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art; Asian Art; Australian Art; Contemporary Art; Decorative Arts and Design; International Art; and Prints, Drawings and Photographs.

The five hundred works of art are presented in reverse chronology – time-travelling from the present to the past. This approach brings to light the dynamic embrace of diverse art forms, an embrace that has existed since the Gallery’s inception.

AGSA Clare Belfrage selected worksImportantly, the works of art have been carefully chosen by AGSA’s Directorate and curators for their relevance, and their ability to act as touchstones to myriad ideas. Highlights include:

  • The more than six metre long painting Kangkura-KangkuraKu Tjukurpa – A Sister’s Story 2017. Depicting the ancestral bond between sisters, this collaborative work was made by the Ken family and is a leading work in AGSA’s national Tarnanthi touring project, Kungka Kunpu (strong women)
  • Clarice Beckett, regarded as one of Australia’s most remarkable twentieth-century painters, who is celebrated for her distinctively misty paintings. AGSA 500 features Beckett’s October morning 1927.
  • Work by the late and highly respected South Australian designer Khai Liew from the 2010 Collectors series, made in collaboration with Bruce Nuske.
  • A pair of six-panel Japanese screens detailing battle scenes from The Tale of the Heike (Heike Monogatari), from 1700-25.
  • Lindy Lee’s, The Life of Stars, takes pride of place on North Terrace outside AGSA. A mirrored beacon, The Life of Stars which is six metres in height is the culmination of decades of experimentation and represents a breakthrough in Lee’s artistic oeuvre.
  • Glass artist, Clare Belfrage’s tableau of nine works dating between 2007 and 2017, that demonstrates Belfrage’s growth and sophistication in the application of drawn-line work in layers using fine glass threads, known as stringers.
  • Donald Judd’s  Untitled, 1974-75, a rare ‘topographic’ sculpture created in response to the terrain of the Gallery’s courtyard. This permanent site-specific sculpture was controversial at its inception and was the first triangular piece the artist produced and the only extant public sculpture by the artist in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Brooklands, 1929 by British artist Claude Flight. This linocut captures the energy and excitement of living in a new area. The bold abstract shapes, repetitive forms and bright colours were a dramatic departure from the monochromatic prints created by artists before the First World War.

AAR AGSA 500 Publication photo by Steward Adams “Great collections like AGSA’s are to be shared, cared for and enjoyed over generations. Regular visitors to the Gallery can experience the breadth and depth of the collection through the Gallery’s thoughtful, animated and ever-evolving displays. Now, through AGSA 500 the collection can find its way into the homes and hearts of art lovers the world over,” said Minister for Arts, Andrea Michaels MP.

“The works of art selected for this publication represent just one percent of the entire AGSA collection. This spirited compilation, nonetheless, harnesses the liveliness, rigour, beauty, intellectual force and expressive power of an exceptional collection, one that will continue to inspire long into the future,” said Rhana Devenport ONZM, the 11th Director of AGSA.

“In addition to the informative narratives that accompany each of the 500 works are the stories of the individuals who made it all possible. The contributions of the Gallery’s early initiators and curators, and its eleven directors since 1934 – alongside the vision and support of advisors, Art Gallery Board members, donors, exhibition-makers, politicians and, most importantly, artists,” said Devenport.

AGSA’s collection of more than 47,000 works of art is a testament to the extraordinary generosity of individuals. For more than a decade now the collection has been entirely reliant on private giving and collecting groups for its growth.

“AGSA warmly thanks Max Carter, AO, whose great belief in the magic and transformative power of art has informed his seven-decade-long friendship with the Gallery. Max understood that to give is more powerful than to receive, added Devenport.

Among the first works featured in AGSA 500 is an extraordinary pair of six-panel screens in ink pigments and gold on paper by Takaya Koho a recent gift from Max currently on display in Misty Mountain, Shining Moon.

AGSA 500 will be launched this Friday 2 February as part of First Friday and can be purchased from the AGSA gift shop or online:

Image 1: Takaya Koho, born Japan c.1870, died Japan c.1920, Untitled, Thunder God after Ogata Korin (1658–1716) and Tawara Sotatsu (c.1570–c.1640), 1892 (Meiji 25), Kyoto, Japan, pair of six panel screens, ink and pigments on gold and paper, 175.0 x 376.0 cm (each); M.J.M. Carter AO Collection through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2022

Image 2: Clare Belfrage, born Melbourne 1966, from left to right: Segment #15, 2005, Leaf Circuitry, 2008, Passage #41, 2007, Passage #44, 2007, Skin Deep, Orange and Pink, 2016, In Sight, Green, 2017, Segment #22, 2006, Petal, 2008, Passage #45, 2008, Adelaide, blown glass with cane drawing, cold-worked, various dimensions; Gift of Joan Lyons, David and Pam McKee and Diana McLaurin through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2017, © Clare Belfrage

Image 3: AGSA 500 Publication, Art gallery of South Australia, Adelaide – photo by Steward Adams