Celebrating 40 years of Artbank

One of the largest and most diverse collections of contemporary Australian art in the world, Artbank – the Australian Government’s unique visual arts support and access initiative is, in 2020, celebrating its 40th anniversary.

The Government founded Artbank in 1980 to support living Australian artists through the acquisition of their work, and to promote the value of Australian contemporary art to the broader public through a public leasing program.

With over 10,000 artworks spanning painting, photography, sculpture and a growing collection of video and new media, Artbank’s collection supports over 4,300 Australian artists.

Artbank is proud to be able to make this impressive collection accessible to the public via its unique leasing program, bringing Australian contemporary art into the everyday and enriching the lives of Australians and the world.

The collection includes some of the best examples of Indigenous and non-Indigenous works in Australia. Artists in the collection include such luminaries as John Mawurndjul, Rosalie Gascoigne, Sidney Nolan, Vincent Namatjira, Jeffrey Smart and Emily Kame Kngwarreye.

Over the last 40 years Artbank has served more than 8,500 clients from Australia and the world, and has placed Australian contemporary art in approximately 70 countries. Artworks are leased to Australian embassies and overseas posts, as well as hundreds of corporate, government and residential clients across the country.

Artbank has proudly supported Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art since its inception, acquiring 242 artworks, equalling 9% of total acquisitions in first 5 years of operation. In 2020, this has grown to 18% of the total collection and 21% of total artists supported.

The representation of female artists has grown from 20% of collection in the first 5 years to 40% of collection in 2020. Artbank continues to focus on increasing representation of women in collection, with 59% of acquisitions in 2019/20 artworks by female artists.

Artbank has kept pace with contemporary art practice, purchasing the first video work for collection in 2008. Holding over 100 new media works, it is one of the largest collections of contemporary Australian video art.

Artbank has launched a new website to celebrate the 40 year milestone. The revamped website is contemporary, user-friendly and accessible, allowing Artbank to promote greater engagement with its unique and dynamic collection.

The organisation is looking ahead to their next forty years full of ambition and enthusiasm – ready to deliver on their original policy objectives of supporting the contemporary visual arts sector through acquisition of new work, and to make this work available to as many as possible through our public leasing program.

“With Artbank, the focus on emerging artists and the stages of artists’ growth within the curatorial rationale gives Artbank a chance to buy things from a particular series or at a point where an artist makes a development in their practice, particularly early in their career, which is what I think makes the collection so important in its entirety.” – Artist Tony Albert speaking about the Artbank collection, August 2020.

Artbank will celebrate their 40th anniversary virtually, due to the limitations presented by the pandemic – providing their 40th exhibition online with a digital catalogue. For more information, visit: www.artbank.gov.au for details.

Image: Elizabeth Gower, Scatter, 1989. Synthetic polymer paint on canvas (at Artbank Melbourne) – photo by Di Snape