Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

AGSA’s Nick Mitzevich & Tony Ellwood

Nick Mitzevich. Source: Daily Review.

Rosemary Sorenson, Charm offensive: AGSA’s Nick Mitzevich & Tony Ellwood’s race to the top, Daily Review, 24 September 2017

When Nick Mitzevich was appointed director at the University of Queensland Art Museum in 2007, he was 37, and had already been director at Newcastle Region Art Gallery for six years.

Charming without a doubt, driven and smart, he arrived in Brisbane almost at the same time as Tony Ellwood, who was appointed director at Queensland Art Gallery soon after the opening of their magnificent Gallery of Modern Art.

Both men had the happy knack of appealing to patrons and punters: they schmoozed with aplomb government and business and spoke easily and well with the populace at large about the excitement and value of art.

Both men had already gained reputations for “turning around” the fortunes of regional galleries, Mitzevich in Newcastle, Ellwood in Bendigo. Interestingly, it required a further step – for Mitzevich into the role of director at Brisbane’s second-string gallery, and for Ellwood into a deputy role at the National Gallery of Victoria – before each of them landed a major gallery directorship.

Now, with Ellwood at the NGV helm and Mitzevich at the Art Gallery of South Australia, they are, to use a sporting metaphor, at the top of their game, and, you’d have to think, pondering some time in the future the premiership win – the directorship of the National Gallery in Canberra (its current director Gerard Vaughan has announced his retirement in October 2018).

Or not.

Certainly Mitzevich now has his work cut out for him, with the news that Adelaide will build a contemporary art gallery on the defunct Royal Adelaide Hospital site on North Terrace, not far from the Art Gallery of South Australia.

As it was for Brisbane, this is an extraordinary opportunity to expand and augment the current gallery. While Mitzevich himself mentions the drawcard that is Hobart’s MONA, a more apt comparison is with the dual-gallery expansion that took place in Brisbane, in such a superb location (flood-risk notwithstanding) alongside the river and completing a suite of cultural buildings that includes the performing arts centre and the library.

The SA announcement calls for expressions of interest from architects to design Adelaide Contemporary. While this is still a proposal, there appears to be some urgency for the plans to be progressed, with a shortlist to be named in December, and the design team appointed in May 2018. No budget has been given beyond a “stage-one” $1.9m, although last year, when Mitzevich first flagged the idea for a new gallery at the other end of town, the figure of $260 million was suggested.

The new site has been the subject of a fair amount of argy-bargy, with the Advertiser reporting that a $1billion consortium deal has fallen through, prompting Premier Jay Weatherill to announce the government was taking control of the site.

According to the Advertiser, the government is now looking to have contracts for the site, including educational facilities, an extension of the Botanic Gardens and commercial buildings, in place before the likely March election. This may well mean that the construction – indeed the concept – of a contemporary art gallery will be an election issue for South Australia in 2018.

Mitzevich is going to need all his energy and passion to steel himself for what lies ahead. The negotiations to get Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art completed fell to the director who preceded Tony Ellwood, Doug Hall, whose resilience was sorely tested by the pressures imposed by Peter Beattie’s Labor government.

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