Scenes from the family album

Yes, yes, yes. Our doors are almost open! And as we count down the days to 1 June, we’re celebrating the people who have kept the Gallery ticking during the COVID-19 closure.

Staff portraits

Some of the staff still working at the Gallery during our temporary closure pose for our story – only nine of them and suitably socially distanced, of course

Though many of us from the Art Gallery of NSW are working remotely, a small but stalwart team has been inside the building – cleaning, keeping systems running, checking on the art, hanging a major new exhibition, taking photographs, orchestrating a performance or two, and generally ensuring that this big house with its many art-rooms will be ready and sparkling when we welcome the world back in. So, to mark this strange moment in the Gallery’s history, Together In Art sent a crack photojournalistic team out on assignment (thank you Jenni Carter and Faith Chisholm) to create a portrait of some of the people who are hard at work behind the scenes – and to ask them about their favourite place in the building and their favourite collection artwork. Here, photographed on 19 May 2020, 58 days into the Gallery’s temporary closure due to COVID-19, are selected scenes from our family album.

See you all soon.

Staff portraits

Jake van Dugteren and Kane Hancock with Arthur Streeton’s Fire’s on 1891, Art Gallery of New South Wales

Jake van Dugteren and Kane Hancock
Arthur Streeton Fire’s on 1891

What do you do at the Gallery?

JvD: I work with the installation team, so I’m an art handler, and I also work with the time-based art conservation team as a time-based art technician.

KH: I’m the lighting technician, so I install all the lights for all the shows that we have.

What artwork currently on display do you like or have a connection with?

When we were little kids our parents used to take us here together to see the art and Jake and I were particularly drawn to this Streeton. We used to argue about what the little dudes were all doing in the painting. We used to try and count them; we still can’t count that high. And it also had the most comfy chair in front of it. Our short little legs would get tired and we’d sit there together as young children.

Is there a particular part of the building that you enjoy the most?

The roof. The view of the city is the best in Sydney. You can see everything. It’s got a good view of the new building site too.

What are you looking forward to when the Gallery reopens?

We’re looking forward to seeing how they use the space in the oil tanks as part of the new building. It’s going to be interesting because of the echo in that space and how they get around that, and how they’re going to play around with the lighting down there. It’s going to be cool. There’s going to be a lot of 3D work in there – super excited for that.

Staff portraits

Kuldeep Duhan with Eugene von Guérard’s Milford Sound, New Zealand 1877–79, Art Gallery of New South Wales

Kuldeep Duhan
Eugene von Guérard Milford Sound, New Zealand 1877–79

What do you do at the Gallery?

I’m head of security and Gallery services. Back-of-house has the control room duties of alarms, cameras and access control and front-of-house has the Gallery officers who meet and greet members of the public and look after the security of the artworks. While the building has been closed we’ve been monitoring or giving access to staff, keeping the buildings safe across all our sites, and looking after the staff’s welfare. I’m also on a couple of committees regarding our return to work.

What artwork currently on display do you like or have a connection with?

I chose this painting because it’s always been hung in the Gallery. It’s an iconic work and I really like the painting itself. I’ve also been to Queenstown so I really connect with this work. Von Guérard was always painting human beings very small compared to nature and I really like that philosophy – we are really small entities compared to what nature is.

Is there a particular part of the building that you enjoy the most?

Most of it actually. We have a really good balance here. I travelled all around the world for a scholarship and went to museums that had everything modern, but I think we have a good balance. We have European and Australian art upstairs and modern and contemporary art downstairs, and Aboriginal art in both places, so we have something for all. But probably the Grand Courts are my favourite.

What are you looking forward to when the Gallery reopens?

We’re in public service, so we really look forward to our visitors coming back and our staff. We work closely with most of the Gallery’s departments and miss that connection with our colleagues. And obviously we love welcoming our visitors.

Staff portraits

Olga Svyatova with Jeff Wall’s Summer afternoons 2013, printed 2014, Art Gallery of New South Wales © Jeff Wall

Olga Svyatova
Jeff Wall Summer afternoons 2013, printed 2014

What do you do at the Gallery?

I’m an installer, so I install exhibitions and I assist different departments, like the conservation and photography departments.

What made you choose the Jeff Wall work to stand before?

Well, I think it’s kind of funny to look at his picture in the current context. I think when the COVID-19 situation started we were all in the same mood – we were isolated from one another and kind of bored. Especially the girl. She is looking for something outside but she can’t actually go, even though it’s a beautiful day.

Is there a particular part of the building that you enjoy the most?

I like the old Rudy Komon Gallery on the upper level because it has a really nice view over to Potts Point. The function space on the ground level has a similar view.

What are you looking forward to when the Gallery reopens?

We started to work onsite three or four weeks ago and it was really strange because it was so quiet during the day. It was an unusual feeling for us, because usually you can hear all the noises and see people around. I’ve kind of enjoyed it because we have this privilege to actually see art and it was really nice to come back to the Gallery and see art again on a wall. I think people will be really happy to see the art again. I think people are missing it.

Staff portrait

Tai Spruyt with Cy Twombly’s Three studies from the Temeraire 1998–99, Art Gallery of New South Wales © Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Gagosian Gallery, London

Tai Spruyt
Cy Twombly Three studies from the Temeraire 1998–99

What do you do at the Gallery?

I’m an assistant curator of international art, so I help with everything from exhibition development to research and writing. While the building’s been closed I have had the great pleasure of working with the crew to install Some mysterious process, which is curated by our director, Michael Brand. And it’s been lovely being here every day and working with the crew, because they’re amazing.

What artwork currently on display do you like or have a connection with?

I chose Twombly’s work because I haven’t seen it in such a long time and seeing it in a different context and a different location in the building – with higher ceilings and a more expansive wall, and with a different colour behind it – almost makes it feel like I’m seeing it for the first time. The burgundy wall has really brought out the purple hue in the boats, which I never noticed before. I also grew up on the ocean basically and, despite the fact I always get incredibly seasick, I’ve always loved being on the water. It’s a beautiful, evocative painting.

Is there a particular part of the building that you enjoy the most?

I don’t know about a part of the building… more the location of the building in general, overlooking the harbour, in the Domain near the Royal Botanic Garden. I walk to work every day and it’s such a pleasure to walk up to this amazing sandstone building every morning.

What are you looking forward to when the Gallery reopens?

That’s a really tricky one because I’ve actually quite enjoyed the peace and quiet – don’t tell anyone that! No, I’m looking forward to people seeing this exhibition, because it was looking for a while there like we may not have got the chance to install it and people may not have got the chance to see it. And I think they will be very pleasantly surprised at the number of beautiful works we have in the collection and the way that they’ve been brought together.

Staff portrait

Tracey Keogh with Josef Albers’ Homage to the square: early fusion 1966, Art Gallery of New South Wales © Josef Albers, 1966/Bild-Kunst. Licensed by Copyright Agency

Tracey Keogh
Josef Albers Homage to the square: early fusion 1966

What do you do at the Gallery?

I’m a team leader for Gallery services, which entails looking after the security team and taking care of the public. We also help look after the building, artworks and events. We have to have our finger on the pulse of everything that’s going on in the Gallery!

What artwork currently on display do you like or have a connection with?

I like Josef Albers’ painting because I’m very interested in perception and colour. The perception of colour changes for everybody, but also every time you look at this work there is movement between the foreground and the background. Colours can affect you in a different way on different days, so every time you look at it, it creates a different emotion. I love the honesty and the purity of it. And I love yellow!

Is there a particular part of the building that you enjoy the most?

I’ve been in this role for about seven years now, but I’ve been working at the Gallery for 20 years. I get excited every time there’s a new exhibition on and I just love being here. But when I started doing this role, the element of loving the bones of the building and caring for it created another dimension for me. I don’t think you could work in a better place with better people; there’s a family feeling about it. We’re just so fortunate.

What are you looking forward to when the Gallery reopens?

Well, the buzz of reopening and welcoming people back. There are so many visitors we know well and so many engagements we have every day. It’s a wonderful institution, the art is fantastic, there’s so much education and solace – I think it’s like coming to a church – but without the public we’re not complete.

Diana Panuccio with Lubna Chowdhary’s Certain times I, II, III, IV, VII 2019, Art Gallery of New South Wales © Lubna Chowdhary

Diana Panuccio
Lubna Chowdhary Certain times I, II, III, IV, VII 2019

What do you do at the Gallery?

I specialise in photographing and documenting the artworks before they go on display and then also when they are on display.

Why did you choose to be photographed with Lubna Chowdhary’s works?

Because they’re a new acquisition, I photographed them recently in our storage facility and I just rephotographed them as they’ve been installed in the new exhibition Some mysterious process. I like the shapes, colours and textures. Being a ’70s child, I like that style.

Is there a particular part of the building that you enjoy the most?

I enjoy every aspect of the building, although I do get drawn to the Grand Courts because of the architecture, the views through them, and the grand style of the works within them.

What are you looking forward to when the Gallery reopens?

Connecting with colleagues again and visitors – having people through the building. It’s been quite eerie through this time.

Staff portrait

William Sit with Sol LeWitt’s Non-geometric form (splotch) #1–6 1999, John Kaldor Family Collection at the Art Gallery of New South Wales © Estate of Sol LeWitt/ARS. Licensed by Copyright Agency

William Sit
Sol LeWitt Non-geometric form (splotch) #1–6 1999

What do you do at the Gallery?

I’m an objects conservator, so basically I make sure all the objects are stable enough to go on display or go into storage. I do condition assessments and propose treatments, so that we can have these materials around for longer.

What artwork currently on display do you like or have a connection with?

As a conservator, I think that the materiality is what is really interesting to us and how the artist makes the work. Sol LeWitt’s sculpture is particularly beautiful. It’s super lightweight and it’s made from polyurethane, different types of foam and also epoxy resin. The longevity and the preservation of plastic in our collection is something I find very interesting to think about.

Is there a particular part of the building that you enjoy the most?

I really like the Australian galleries where Michael Parekowhai’s sculpture The English Channel 2015 is. That space is so open and inviting to the waters. The sculpture is such a presence in there and it really speaks to our colonial history. I also like the atrium where Karla Dickens’ works are displayed for the Sydney Biennale. The space itself is so busy, it enhances the reading of the almost chaotic sculptures. These two areas of the Gallery are so different, but I like the meeting of historical and modern. The collection is a reflection of that too.

What are you looking forward to when the Gallery reopens?

For our hard work to be on display again. We put a lot of effort into the Some mysterious process exhibition, and a lot of other exhibitions too, and unfortunately they haven’t had the showtime that they deserve. We’re trying to connect with people through art, so we want people to come in and enjoy the art as much as we do.

Staff portrait

Brett Cuthbertson with Timothy Cook’s Kulama 2009, Art Gallery of New South Wales © Timothy Cook. Licensed by Copyright Agency

Brett Cuthbertson
Timothy Cook Kulama 2009

What do you do at the Gallery?

I handle artworks, I install them and I’m also a judge of the Packing Room Prize when the Archibald Prize exhibition is on.

What artwork currently on display do you like or have a connection with?

I just like this work by Timothy Cook; I don’t even have a reason why. I just think it’s a great-looking work. I could have picked any Indigenous work, I love ’em all. And the Under the stars exhibition is a beautiful show.

Is there a particular part of the building that you enjoy the most?

The Yiribana Gallery of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art. That’s my second home down there.

What are you looking forward to when the Gallery reopens?

People. Just seeing people again would be great.