Power Institute celebrates five decades of scholarship in the visual arts and film

University of Sydney Power Institute Edward Colless, Madame Gre and Alan Cholodenko in class at the RC Mills Building (1983)The University of Sydney’s Power Institute is celebrating 50 years of teaching art history and visual culture through the Department of Art History.

The Department was founded by the JW Power bequest, a gift from Australian Modernist artist John Wardell Power which also established a research library, public education program, a collection, and a residency scheme for Australian artists in Paris.

Today, the Department continues to attract students from around the world to study in the fields of fine arts, art history, film studies, museum studies and art curating.

“Since its first classes in 1968, the Department of Art History has been inspiring generations of students to engage with the rich history and theory of art and moving images,” said Professor Annamarie Jagose, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

“The Department has educated, trained and enthused a host of students of art history, film and visual culture who have gone on to important positions at museums, universities, and galleries, and inspired many more with a lifelong passion for art and film,” said Dr Catriona Moore, current Chair of the Department of Art History.

“The breadth of teaching over the past 50 years has reflected the breadth of our research and expertise in art and visual culture from Australia, Asia, Europe and other places around the world,” said Professor Mark Ledbury, Director of the Power Institute. “The anniversary is an opportunity to honour the great minds who taught at the Department, as well as the great minds those teachers inspired.”

For Richard Neville (BA ’84 MA ‘89) seven years of study ignited in him a deep passion for archival research and nineteenth century Australian art and culture. For the past decade, he has worked as the Mitchell Librarian at the State Library of NSW, where he is responsible for the Library’s renowned Australian research collections. He has also curated numerous exhibitions and published widely on colonial art and society.

“My career seemed to happen after my time at the University of Sydney, without much planning, but absolutely based on what I learned there,” he said.

Other graduates like Peter Raissis (BA ‘94) – the Senior Curator of Historical European Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales – remember the Department’s teaching staff most fondly.

“Lectures by Virginia Spate, Anthony Bradley and Louise Marshall made an indelible impression, opening my eyes and mind to the wonders of European art,” he said. “I owe an enormous debt to their fine scholarship and inspired teaching. Their example instilled a spirit of rigorous critical inquiry and their approach never lost sight of the intensity of experience that can be had before the work of art.”

For graduates like Sydney artist Agatha Gothe-Snape (BA (Hons) ‘03 BVArts ‘07 MVArts ‘11) it was simply the atmosphere and environment that provided their most memorable moments.

Her memories are of “drifting through the Power Library, skulking in corridors, asking for extensions, obsessing over Alfred Jarry and Artaud… all the while, understanding very little about what anyone was talking about. I can’t imagine a better way to start a life of artistic enquiry – right in the thick of not knowing, always on the precipice of comprehension,” she said.

Alumni, current and former staff, and friends of the Department will come together to share experiences of their studies at an anniversary celebration on Wednesday 31 October 2018. For more information, and to register, visit: www.sydney.edu.au for details.

Image: Edward Colless, Madame Gre and Alan Cholodenko in class at the RC Mills Building (1983).