Director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, Nick Mitzevich, has been the subject of much discussion since revealing his avant-garde rehang of the Melrose Wing of European Art in January. Mitzevich chose to avoid the traditional chronological system of display, instead seeking to hang the collection in a manner that reflects the contemporary approach of appraising and experiencing works of art across time and place.
As part of Metzevich’s bold vision, Belgian artist Berlinde De Bruyckere’s confronting sculpture “We are all flesh” has been deliberately hung amongst classical paintings and sculptures. Displayed in Gallery 13, the Gallery devoted to the theme of the human condition, De Bruyckere’s gruesome equine forms are juxtaposed with Rodin’s epic bronze “The inner voice.”
In a recent interview with ARTINFO AUSTRALIA, Nick Mitzevich responds to the controversy surrounding the rehang and explains the motivation behind his controversial curatorial approach.
What prompted the renovation of the Melrose Wings?
The practical need to refresh the wing (walls and flooring) prompted the refurbishment. In addition to this, the opportunity to show parts of the collection previously unseen and to tell the story of European art by looking across time and place was an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up. Finally, the Melrose Wing continues the spirit of rejuvenation (practiced by all good galleries) that we commenced with the rehang of the Elder Wing of Australian Art around 18 months ago. Art history and collections are never static.
What do you hope to achieve with the rehang?
We hope to engage our public, the broadest public possible (local, international, young, old and of course culturally diverse) in the great stories that art history has to offer. We hope that they see the collection and the building through new eyes and start to make connections of their own. The breadth and depth of this collection is one of this state’s greatest assets, by refreshing the hang we want people to appreciate and value what they ultimately own.
Your decision to "avoid the traditional chronological system of display" has caused some controversy. How do you justify the decision?
Art history is never static nor is it linear. The timeline approach presents a choreographed and one way approach to art history – we wanted to try a different type of choreography – to see what happens when you place works from discrete time periods in conversation. Time performs all sorts of tricks on the way we see art and what we value and we wanted to illuminate the influences across time and place.
How do you respond to those who say that displaying a Rodin Sculpture with a sculpture of entwined horse forms in inappropriate?
Two cast bronzes by Rodin share a space with Berlinde De Bruyckere’s cast sculpture titled “We are all flesh.” They also share the space with many paintings, photography, works on paper, decorative arts and other sculptures from the collection. The comparison with Rodin is often invoked because both artists use the casting process. In fact an early work by Rodin was considered by critics to be so life like that he was accused of casting it from life – a process rejected by the academy in the nineteenth century. Rodin, like de Bruyckere and most of art history’s greats, experienced more than his share of controversy during his lifetime. Both Rodin and de Bruyckere employ sculpture as their key visual language – one that has an emotional intensity and a capacity to speak powerfully to audiences.
What do you hope to achieve by curating the space as you have?
The intention is to engage the hearts and minds of our audiences. To show them that art, whether made 10 or 1000 years ago, can make us think and feel. It can speak to who and where we are right now.
Is there any benefit to altering the context in which the works are experienced?
The benefit of reframing the display and therefore reframing art history is to communicate that there is not one story only. There is not a single context in which to experience art. Altering the display also enables us to draw out connections and to show more of our collection. This is something we will continue to do here in the gallery across all of our collections.