The Exhibition

Beyond Bling!





Dr Robert Bell AM

Dr Robert Bell AM

1946 – 2018

AGWA dedicates this exhibition to the memory of Dr Robert Bell AM. Dr Bell, who died this year in Canberra, was the Curator of Crafts and Design at the Gallery from 1977 until 2000, before leaving to take up the post of Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, where he worked until 2016. Not only was he one of the most important figures to have worked at this institution, his contribution to the development and understanding of national and international decorative arts, crafts and design is unparalleled.

During his time at the Gallery, Dr Bell acquired around 1800 works in glass, jewellery, metalwork, woodwork, furniture and ceramics. This accounts for approximately 10% of our State Art Collection. In numbers alone his legacy is enormous, and in every way his work built the craft and design collection that we all enjoy today. Within this exhibition, works he acquired can be identified by the dates on the acquisition line on individual labels: everything between 1977 and 2000 came in through his efforts. If you take the time, you will see for yourself the depth of his contribution, and recognise that the objects he brought into the collection resonate at the very heart of this exhibition. You will also get a glimpse of the diversity of his interests, as the material ranges from Victorian mourning jewellery, to Western Australian innovators, to major works by the best in Australian and international contemporary jewellery, including Johannes Kuhnen and Wendy Ramshaw.

It is clear that Dr Bell’s stewardship of the collection ensured that craft and design material was at the core of our collecting and exhibition programs; it remains so because of his work. A principle achievement was his directorship of the three major Australian International Crafts Triennials he produced during his tenure (in 1989, 1992 and 1998). These were enormous undertakings, composed of several exhibitions each, that elegantly choreographed an international dialogue between makers from different traditions and diverse media bases. They were the result of significant research and travel and the cultivation of rich professional and personal connections with all of the artists involved. Their quality was ensured by his passion, his historical and philosophical acuity, and his consummate eye and feel for all the details of exhibition making. These exhibitions stand as brilliant moments of curatorial endeavour and have never been replicated in this country. As with all of his achievements here, the Triennials firmly internationalised the Gallery’s approach to craft and design. His work helped to make AGWA a place where local, national and international makers could be inspired, respected, and assured that the very best examples of their chosen art forms would meet a wide, appreciative public.

The entire staff of the Gallery, past and present, is hugely indebted to his unique vision and dedication and we offer him our profound gratitude. Dr Bell’s place in the cultural history of this country and the world is uncontested.







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