It took a hydraulic hoist to shift it into place, so it’s accurate in many ways that a huge Sidney Nolan at the centre of the ANU’s new Kambri precinct Cultural Centre was hailed by Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt as a “monumental gift to the university”.
The 66 copper panels were unveiled yesterday at the precinct opening and depict the Battle of the Eureka Stockade fought in Ballarat in 1854. A gift to ANU from the Reserve Bank of Australia, it joins Riverbend as the University’s second Sidney Nolan and forms part of a larger holding in the national capital.
The Canberra Museum and Gallery has the Nolan Collection, including paintings from the Kelly, Burke and Wills and St Kilda series, central Australian landscape and carcass works, while the major part of the iconic Kelly series is at the National Gallery of Australia along with other works.
Eureka Stockade was commissioned by the Reserve Bank in 1962 but was not completed until 1966. Although Nolan is best known for working in oils, he experimented with other media for large scale installation pieces. The copper panels are marked with nitric acid before being enamelled, creating a richly lustrous work that’s nonetheless fairly difficult to photograph because of its reflective qualities.
The work’s huge size meant that it couldn’t be easily hung at the Reserve Bank, which then sought other places where it would be publicly accessible and could be viewed at its full scale.
The ANU’s new cultural precinct fit the bill for a number of reasons, not least the presence of Riverbend, first acquired from Nolan in 1965. There’s also a link with the late H.C. ‘Nugget’ Coombs, who was pro-chancellor and then chancellor of ANU from 1959 onwards and instigated the H.C. Coombs Creative Arts Fellowships of which Nolan was the first recipient.
The Vice-Chancellor unveils the latest gift to the ANU artwork collection: Sidney Nolan’s Eureka Stockade. pic.twitter.com/pSz4G8BwmC
— ANU Media (@ANUmedia) February 10, 2019
Installing the work was a complex task for staff from Abode Restoration and International Conservation Service, who used a hydraulic hoist to lift the panels into place. The work is accessible to members of the public at all times and joins other significant works from the Craig Edwards Collection, the most valuable donation of its kind yet given to an Australian university.
The Craig Edwards collection comprises 120 Western Desert paintings valued at over nine million dollars, focusing on a cohort of senior women, most of whom had begun painting late in life.
ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt AC said the Nolan would be a focal point in the thriving precinct, which includes a student residential hall, teaching and learning facilities, a health and life centre and more than 40 shops and retailers.
Kambri’s cultural centre includes a theatre, cinema and large hall that can accommodate public lectures and events as well as large music acts.