Rewind: Grazia Gunn – ACCA’s third director with an experimental vision

In late 1989 Grazia Gunn, former curator of International Art at the National Gallery of Australia, returned to Melbourne to take up the position of Director at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. Gunn’s vision was to develop ACCA into a multidisciplinary centre for young artists, photographers, designers and architects to exhibit, and for a space in which mid-career artists could experiment and develop new ideas.

Gunn’s artistic program was divided into four categories and created in close collaboration with the artists:

1.  Rooms: a series of solo and group exhibitions whereby the artists used ACCA’s galleries as a conventional display space. This series included the exhibition Inland curated by the artist Robert Owen.

2. Wallpapers: a series of solo exhibitions where artists were invited to work directly onto the gallery walls which had been covered from floor to ceiling with paper. Gunn particularly remembers Rick Amor’s contribution to this series, which the artist later described to her as a ‘turning point’.

3. Experiments: through this series artists were able to develop new work that was experimental and challenging in nature, something that deviated from what they were known for. Gunn recalls: “Micky Allen was the first to experiment in this category with her installation For Love of the Divine, an extraordinary series of mural drawings, subtle and mysterious”. Peter Graham also produced sequential narrative drawings of exploration and discovery in the Australian bush.

4. Performance Art: Gunn welcome performance practice into ACCA’s program. Jude Walton’s performances were characteristic of the interdisciplinary practices that Gunn wished to merge with the galleries

Significantly, Gunn had a plan for ACCA’s activities to be documented in what she proposed as, THE ACCA COMPEDIUM. This annual publication was to serve as a record of each exhibition and performance with additional short essays on the artists and the work’s conception and process, etc. The Compendium was also to include texts on lectures and forums held at ACCA and document dialogue between local and visiting artists, writers, film directors and curators. Unfortunately these publications did not go ahead due to lack of funding, an ongoing challenge for ACCA and its ambitious program.

1998, Art and Australia, Vol 35, Hunting the Puma

Born and raised in Cairo, Gunn originally came to Melbourne with her family in the early 1950s. She initially trained as an artist under John Brack at the National Gallery Art School and was later employed as Curator of the Leonhard Adams Ethnographic collection at the University of Melbourne (1970-1973). From 1974 to 1975 Gunn worked at the Australia Council in the International and Australian Touring department and later moved back to Melbourne to work as curator at Monash University where she assisted Patrick  McCaughey  to establish the Monash University Art Gallery (1975-1979). The original gallery has expanded significantly over the years and is now known as the Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA).

From 1981 to 1989 Gunn worked under James Mollison’s directorship at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. She recommended acquisitions in the area of international contemporary art including major works such as Joseph BeuysStripes from the house of Shaman (1964-72) and Sigmar Polke’s Watchtower 1 (1984). Gunn catalogued the Arthur Boyd Gift, a collection of some 2000 art works, and curated the exhibition Arthur Boyd: Seven Persistent Images (1985). In 1988 she was also the Australian commissioner for the XLIII Biennale of Venice and curator of the exhibition Arthur Boyd: paintings 1973-1988.