Opening this weekend, this free exhibition – Stage Presence: Design from the Australian Performing Arts Collection – is the third in a series presented by the Arts Centre Melbourne (ACM) to showcase Australia’s most extensive collection of stage and costume design from the late 19th century to the present. The previous exhibitions, Creating a Scene (2004) and Drawn to the Stage (2007) both proved extremely popular with visitors to the Centre.

Catherine Della Bosca met with Senior Curator, Tim Fisher, to discuss the ACM’s commitment to making the Australian live performing arts collection more accessible to the widest possible audience, the inspiration behind these ‘imaginary worlds’ and the often-ephemeral nature of this visual culture.

The Lion, the Witch and the WardrobeThis exhibition was motivated by “the desire to showcase pieces from the ACM’s most recent acquisitions (which is one of the fastest growing parts of the Performing Arts Collection and to date, has relied solely on donations and bequests). In the last 5 to 6 years, the ACM has received substantial donations, in fact, whole design oeuvres, by very Senior Stage Designers, keen to have their work properly archived & safeguarded.”

Too often, institutions are criticised (almost feverishly) for acquiring works and then squirreling them away; making them inaccessible to the general public. Tim is adamant that the ACM’s collection showcasing this extraordinary history across the Performing Arts be celebrated. And that “one of the most important aspects of the curator’s job is to keep this incredibly interesting and unique collection growing and going.”

Boasting more than 600,000 items, it includes costumes, designs, photographs, set models, puppets, props, posters and programs; and continues to challenge traditional expectations of what may be considered ‘museum objects.’

Tim cites institutions, “like the Victoria & Albert Museum, as art-form specific whereas, the ACM has collected widely across the live performing arts across the genres of opera, theatre, music, dance and circus – and constantly loans items to ACMI, the Melbourne Museum and the State Library of Victoria (as well as institutions overseas), again with the view to reach wider audiences”.

Including more than a 140 items and featuring the work of renowned Stage and Costume Designers, the exhibition will showcase original designs, design bibles, costumes, photographs, set models and scenic paintings from the likes of John Truscott, Roger Kirk, Brian Thomson, Hugh Coleman, Judith Cobb and Jennie Tate as well as contributions from Jennifer Irwin, Richard Jeziorny, Nigel Triffitt, Akira Isogawa, Alicia Clements, Tony Tripp and Gabriela Tylesova.

Tim has enlisted Anna Cordingley, an award-winning designer in her own right, to design the exhibition in this very public space that aims “to engage its audience in a more dynamic, shall we say, less didactic way with minimal wall texts, replica backdrops & viewing windows”, to entice and delight visitors into these ‘imaginary worlds’.

Essentially, illustrating the technical virtuosity of the designers’ work, whilst demonstrating an understanding of what a script or a character demands and then translating that vision into dimensions and mechanics (and materials and budgets) that will be right for each artistic Company. A fitting legacy to their versatility, ingenuity and meticulous research, that is all so influential in the way these stories, are portrayed on stage.

Seems to me, what Tim and his curatorial staff are really exhibiting with these exquisite works, is boundless imagination and invention - for the space inside our heads.

Arts Centre Melbourne presents Stage Presence: Design from the Australian Performing Arts Collection – a free exhibition from 30 April – 4 September 2016. Further details»

Image credits:–
Top Right – Costume design by Hugh Colman for the White Witch from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2001)
Cover – Costume design by Jennie Tate for Madame Butterfly (2008)

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