Rewind: The final count down

Douglas Gordon, Everything is nothing without its relfection; A Photographic Pantomine, 2013. 180 framed photographs, 180 framed mirrors of various sizes. Installation view ACCA, 2014. photo: Andrew Curtis

By Hannah Mathews

In 1984 ACCA opened its doors in a modestly-scaled gardener’s cottage located in Melbourne’s inner city Domain gardens. In its first 12 months of operation, under the guidance of independent curator John Buckley, ACCA hosted a rising international art star (Keith Haring), brought together three of Melbourne’s hottest young artistic talents (David Larwill, Juan Davila and Howard Arkley), and delivered an exhibition that considered painting, sculpture and architecture in the same conversation.

Quickly establishing itself as a national hot spot for contemporary art, ACCA’s ambitions continued to grow throughout the late 1980s and 1990s under the leadership of three artistic directors (Richard Perram 1986-89, Grazia Gunn 1989-91, and Jenepher Duncan 1991-2001). Despite increasing financial precariousness and limited staff resources, the distinct vision of each director saw ACCA deliver a range of artistic and critical programs that consistently addressed local activity, engaged with international conversations, and sought to grow audiences for art.

Pipilotti Rist, I Packed the Postcard in My Suitcase. Installation view, ACCA 2011. Courtesy the artist and ACCA Archive

Thirty years on from its inception, ACCA now occupies an iconic, purpose-built building in Melbourne’s Southbank precinct. Under the artistic directorship of Juliana Engberg (2002 – ) and executive direction of Kay Campbell (2002 – ) it has earned itself an international reputation as a commissioning centre for international and local contemporary art.

ACCA’s commitment to art and artists continues to hold strong: commissioning ambitiously scaled and challenging art works; regularly bringing local and international artists into conversation with each other; growing audiences for contemporary art with projects conceived for both city, regional and international audiences; remaining committed to producing and presenting new art works; and growing a program of educational and public events that share, challenge and compliment the field of contemporary art.


Barbara Kruger, installation view, ACCA, 2005. Courtesy ACCA Archive

In the last 12 years ACCA has shown works by internationally acclaimed artists including Jenny Holzer, Callum Morton, Shirin Nishat, Pipilotti Rist, Geoff Lowe, Barbara Kruger, Mike Nelson, Tracey Moffatt, Richard Billingham, Mikala Dwyer, Berlinde de Bruykere, Douglas Gordon, Daniel von Sturmer, David Noonan, David Rosetsky, Tacita Dean, Monika Sosnowska, Maria Hassabi, Susan Norrie, Joseph Kosuth, Angelica Mesiti, among many others.

Over its 30-year history ACCA has worked with more than 2,300 artists, curators and writers; presented over 365 exhibitions, and produced 288 publications. It has grown an impressive alumni that includes artists who have represented Australia at various international exhibitions, directors who have curated some of the most significant exhibitions in our recent history, staff who have gone on to fill key roles in institutions throughout Australia and overseas, and patrons whose support has helped sustain contemporary art.

Monika Sosnowska, Regional Modernities, installation view, ACCA 2013. Courtesy the Artist. Photograph: Andrew Curtis

ACCA was the first arts organisation in Australia to embrace the possibilities of an active online profile. In addition to being an early adopter of the online blog, ACCA was the first to offer an online library of podcasts and artist videos. It was also the first to digitize its 30 years of programming history into an online archive freely accessible anywhere, anytime.

It has presented award winning education and outreach programs (including the Go Program which, since 2006, has provided free transport for over 8,500 students from disadvantaged schools to visit the gallery and surrounding arts precinct), and grown a volunteer program focused on developing the skills and knowledge of those wishing to be involved in the arts.

ACCA’s success is due in large part to the many people who have walked through its doors, shown work in its galleries, built walls, photographed shows, sat at its desks and answered its phones. Its success is also reflective of the Melbourne art world, which has regularly drawn together to support the organisation in its vision and provided the art and audiences that are essential to its mission.

As part of ACCA’s Our First 30 Years program, launched to celebrate the organisation’s anniversary, ACCA’s has invited many of these voices to go on the record. Each week for the past 51 weeks, individuals central to ACCA’s history have contributed texts on various exhibitions, personalities, moments and memories. Writers include: John Buckley, Ashley Crawford, Sue Cramer, Elizabeth Gertsakis, Lyndal Jones, Peter Cripps, Richard Perram, Robert Owen, Jenepher Phipps (vale), Grazia Gunn, Jenepher Duncan, Geoff Lowe, Anna Schwartz, Claire Williamson, Natalie King, Vikki McInnes, Lesley Alway, Naomi Cass, Bridget Crone, Philip Samartzis, Kay Campbell, Gabrielle de Vietri, Charlotte Day, Rebecca Coates, Jane Rhodes, Bianca Hester, Juliana Engberg, Katrina Hall, Julia Powles and Lauren Dornau. These >>REWIND texts have been published via ACCA’s weekly e-bulletin and now reside within ACCA’s online archive for viewing in perpetuity. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the writers and artists for their contributions.

While ACCA’s first 30 year celebrations draw to a close and the >>REWIND series pauses online, ACCA continues its collecting. Not art of course – its a kunsthalle – but there is a commitment to growing the archive and ACCA is on the look out for any additional information on ACCA’s history, shows, people and more. If you’ve got publications, happy snaps, a story to share please be in touch:

Here’s to the next 30 years!

Hannah Mathews is an Associate Curator at ACCA and coordinator of ACCA’s Our First 30 Years online archive project and Rewind series. She has been ably assisted by Lauren Dornau and Julia Powles, ACCA staff Emma Sullivan and Emma Anderson, and ACCA’s Executive Director, Kay Campbell, and Artistic Director, Juliana Engberg, who have provided valuable guidance and editorial support.