There’s something striking about opening a new museum during a pandemic; as if thousands of years of human history is suddenly met by an equally powerful present. Such is the final chapter in the creation of the University’s Chau Chak Wing Museum.
The museum is a decade in the making, finally uniting the University’s Nicholson, Macleay and University Art collections under one roof, allowing some of the University’s greatest-and oldest-artefacts to be put on public display.
The fact that it arrived in a year so deluged by history and so eviscerating of the arts only underscores its vital role. Now open, the museum is the new centre of culture on campus. A destination not just for the University community but for the wider public. Like the rest of the University, museum visitors will be required to social distance as they traverse from Ancient Rome and Ancient Egypt to galleries filled with indigenous art and displays of some of Australia’s oldest natural artefacts.
The low-key opening is not as originally planned but the silver lining is that staff had more time to conduct small group tours for alumni and friends of the museum.
One of the first visitors was alumnus Kenneth Reed AM, who will bequeath fourteen of his ‘Old Master’ artworks to the University Art Collection. The 17th century paintings, which have already been loaned to the University for teaching and learning purposes, will eventually be displayed in the Chau Chak Wing Museum allowing Reed to share his appreciation for the Golden Age of Dutch Painting with countless others.
“It’s one of my favourite periods of art,” says Reed. “The Dutch artists drew inspirations from real life as opposed to earlier European artworks which were largely confined to religious or mythological subjects.”
To ensure the University can preserve the phenomenal artworks for years to come, Reed will also leave funding for their conservation, assisting University art conservators to devise and implement long term care plans for each work with a focus on preventing or halting deterioration.
“The artworks fill a gap in the University’s art collection,” says David Ellis, Director of Museums and Cultural Engagement. “Even more importantly, they can be used for both public display and study, making them an invaluable asset for the teaching of art history and a variety of disciplines.”
Education is a key part of the vision for the Chau Chak Wing Museum and something Reed also has a deep appreciation of. “It’s fantastic working with Ken because he is an advocate for education as well as the arts,” says Ellis. “He really understands why a museum of this caliber belongs on a University campus and can see the potential for knowledge transfer between the two.”
As an Arts and Law alumnus, Reed is indeed passionate about education, especially English. In fact, it is difficult to know which one he loves more: art or literature. Both, he says, have been sources of wonder and sustenance throughout his life, as mirrored in his bequest to the University.
In addition to loaning his treasured artworks ahead of his bequest, Reed has made a gift to the Department of English to establish in perpetuity the Kenneth Reed Postgraduate Scholarship in English, which will then be strengthened through his bequest for postdoctoral fellowships and student scholarships.
The inaugural scholarship recipient, Dr Jonathan Dunk, graduated from his PhD last year, since landing his dream job as a University Lecturer in Literary Studies. The scholarship, he says, allowed him to focus on his research and present at academic conferences alongside other literary scholars. “It transformed my studies in incomparable ways and helped me to establish my career.”
Dunk is now the co-editor-in-chief of the Overland Literary Journal, one of the oldest and most prestigious literary journals in Australia. He says Reed is showing how enriching literary scholarship can be, “It shows an understanding of how diverse disciplines all benefit from the cultural flourishing that is at the core of the humanities.”
It is a sentiment that Dr Huw Griffiths from the Department of English is also keen to relay to Reed.
“At a time where support for the Humanities looks shakier than ever, gifts like yours fulfil an important role. Your support of a postgraduate scholarship in perpetuity is evidence of the impact we have in the community. We look forward to a long line of new PhD students, bringing renewed life into our future work.”
The Chau Chak Wing Museum is open to the public with free entry from the 18th of November.