Art & Design


Lillian McKnight • 3 June 2012

Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art has been newly rechristened the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. The MCAA is more of a mouthful than the institution’s previous moniker, and it’s certainly not the only thing about the gallery to have grown. Following a fifty-three million dollar redevelopment that has seen a brand new wing attached to the Art Deco symmetry of the former Maritime Services Board, the MCA has shrugged off past criticisms of stuffiness. With the Mordant Wing, the museum’s commitment to contemporary art is finally represented with a bold architectural aesthetic. Director Elizabeth Ann Macgregor has finally realised the major goal of her twelve-year tenure. How does she feel? “Relieved and exhilarated by the response!” she says.

Macgregor’s outlook on the reception to the relaunched MCA is as sunny as the building’s prime harbour side perspective. “People used to say that Sydney would never embrace a museum of contemporary art, yet on our opening weekend, with beautiful weather, we were packed!” The value of the newly minted museum is already apparent, she says. “It was wonderful to see the crowds looking at art all weekend. We broke our daily records!”

Macgregor, primarily, is a people person. Her vision for the gallery that she has helmed for over a decade is steeped in seeking the approval of a public who are oft inclined to dismiss contemporary art as either unapproachable or pretentious. Her major aims in the redevelopment of the MCA were education and accessibility. “We began very pragmatically, wanting to fix the difficult circulation and access issues,” she says. “We finished with a grand vision of a project that would unite the old and the new, encouraging people to come in and circulate easily, taking advantage of the views, creating better galleries and educational initiatives.”

Indeed, the scope of the final result is rather astounding. Ambition outgrew the original blueprints, and Macgregor couldn’t be more thrilled. “It’s bigger than our original plan. The fabulous new six-metre high space is a fantastic improvement on a gallery that had columns and stairs through it.

The addition of the bold, blocky Mordant Wing aesthetically elucidates the purpose of the building particularly effectively. “It is deliberately modern in style to reflect the fact that we are a contemporary museum,” asserts Macgregor.

The success of the new MCA is testament to the tireless efforts of Macgregor, but the director modestly downplays the input of any singular individual. “The current and previous chairs have all played key roles, but ultimately a museum stands or falls by its program, so it’s all credit to the curators and the artists.” What is in store for the new MCA’s debut year? “I’m thrilled to be working with Anish Kapoor on our major summer exhibition, and our first Australian solo show by Ken Whisson, an artist who deserves to be on the international stage.”

Macgregor’s aspirations for the new MCA are far from complete– her ambitions, it seems, move indefatigably onwards and upwards. “The next challenge is the MCA online. We’d love to be a world leader in digital access to contemporary art and artists.” For now, though, her immediate desires are simple in their scope for the public. “I hope that people get great enjoyment and delight, and are able to further their knowledge about contemporary art and learn to take pride in Australian artists.”