In Australia, the major museums and galleries publish Collection Strategies – future-facing documents that set out the goals, values and direction of their collections. Bureaucratic in appearance, these documents can be vague or quietly radical. Art is a powerful conveyor of the past, so what a museum (or collector) chooses to save from obscurity is important, an act of history-making. To do it well, is to imagine what the future needs to remember about now.

In examining Collection Strategies, those of us also invested in keeping art in Australia alive, may find a north star. 


Championing Minorities 

Broadly speaking, Collection Strategies in Australia are seeking “excellence”. They also want to diversify their collections, prioritising artists who are immigrants, women, First Nations, queer and gender non-conforming or have a disability. At Queensland Art Gallery, their Collection Strategy favours work that:

“That reflects the globalised contemporary art world, as well as artists referencing their local histories and the lasting impact of colonialism, war, urbanisation and technology.”

For them, art that looks beyond the shores of Australia speaks to the character of our times, as does conflict, urbanisation and the rise of technology. 

While new perspectives may overtake the primacy of identity, globalisation, climate change and technology, they do seem like key frameworks for understanding life in the twenty-first century. When looking back at this moment in history, it will be artists who distinctively, elegantly or powerfully capture these complex ideas that are called to mind. Again and again, these artists will be shared with the public, forging a valuable legacy. 

Clinton Naina   'I Look at The Skies'


From the White Cube to the Auction Room

Whether the museum’s ruling paradigm will translate to the Australian art market is a matter of speculation. The museum can be a site of experimentation, spectacle and investigation. Private collectors however, may want to favour beautiful, thought-provoking and relatable scenes they can hang on their walls. Not many living rooms are fit for the kind of installation that gleams in the NGV’s capacious foyer. 

Christopher Rimmer   'Sign of Life 1'


Museums hope to capture what it means to be alive, to make art, at a specific point in time. The paradigm through which they organise the world will invariably change. Yet, when we look back, the artists they recorded – deemed important – will emerge as articulators of this time, crowned with an enduring historical significance. Those who do this best, with the most beauty and distinctiveness (transcendent of gimmick or trend), will likely stand the test of time. We do not need to embrace the museum’s Collection Strategy – appeals to authority should never dictate what we love. That said, it is always useful to pay mind to what the captains see on the horizon line.