It’s a great pleasure to be here with you all at the Australian Design Centre and a great honour to help open the ninth Living Treasures: Masters of Australian Craft exhibition – showcasing the indelible work and singular career of Prue Venables.
May I begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and paying my respects to elders past and present. We’re privileged to meet on this land where people have gathered to share art, culture and knowledge for more than 80,000 years. And tonight I’d especially like to acknowledge the work of the ADC to champion the vital role of Aboriginal craft and design in our culture. As I said at the National Indigenous Arts Awards earlier this year, we cannot arrive at a plausible national identity without understanding the centrality of Indigenous cultures to our past, present and future.
By working together, as artists, as leaders of Australia’s cultural industries, we can, we must play our part to help make it so – and the ADC is undoubtedly playing its part. This is a special night. For 15 years since the launch of the Living Treasures series, the ADC has done the Australian public the great service of showcasing our most important craftspeople, celebrating their work and honouring their place in our cultural landscape.
The emphasis here is on living treasures. I say this not because Prue is here in my line of sight. But because the ADC has designed these exhibitions as tributes to artists at the peak of their skill – of their present work as the culmination of decades of outstanding achievement. And standing here tonight, I’m struck by how very alive Prue’s work feels here in this beautiful ADC space – how completely it succeeds in her ambition to ‘reinforce the value of ceramics as an art form’ at a critical time for her craft. It would almost be tempting to say there’s an effortlessness to the way these objects marry function and form, beauty and practicality, simplicity and depth. It would be tempting, were we not aware of the vast reaches of skill and experience that lie behind them – skill and experience which would render such words just a little glib.
Prue’s remarkable career has taken her from that other great city linked by an iconic arched bridge – Newcastle-upon-Tyne – via London and ultimately to Australia, and her work has been enjoyed by people all over the world. A journey – if I may use that overused word in its proper sense – captured so beautifully by the monograph that accompanies this exhibition.
I was struck by Prue’s description of finding inspiration in the ‘wonder and mystery of objects – their power to incite a response in me, to move and stimulate me, to draw me towards them and to dwell permanently in my memory.’ I have no doubt that over the next coming weeks, many more Australians will be drawn towards these exquisite pieces – they will be moved by them – and what they have seen will dwell in their memory long after they emerge onto the streets of Darlinghurst.
For over 50 years now, the Centre has played a leadership role in our culture, nurturing our makers and thinkers, pushing the boundaries of creativity, and making craft and design available to Australians of all ages and backgrounds. Increasingly it has taken on not just a national role but a global one – hosting tens of millions of visitors within Australia and taking its unforgettable exhibitions to new audiences overseas.
Today, like the Australia Council, the ADC is focused on shaping the future of the arts in this country.
It continues to empower Australian talent.
It continues to harness Australian ideas.
Above all, it continues to demonstrate the value of art in Australian society – economic, cultural, social – in ways that enrich all Australians’ lives.
This organisation, this venue and this magnificent exhibition embody that capacity for arts and culture to bring people together. To show that art can and should be part of people’s everyday lives, not something that stands above or apart. To foster, in Prue’s words again, ‘the joy and warmth of human connection’ that her work brings so vividly to life. A joy and a warmth of human connection which we trust will always be vital to the work of the Australia Council itself.
On behalf of the Australia Council, once again, my warmest congratulations to Prue, my warmest congratulations to the ADC, and my best wishes for what I know will be an incredibly successful exhibition.
Adrian Collette AM