AFDA talks to Nick Mitzevich

The purchase of work through this award will enable the Art Gallery of South Australia to continue to build its design holdings. Why are design holdings important for the gallery?

Our collection is 134 years old housing both decorative arts and fine arts, both important hallmarks of this institute that enable us to capture a snapshot of the time. Our rich holdings of the decorative arts have a lot to do with history. Many of Adelaide’s first family’s came to settle here with all of their possessions and over successive generations their furniture, silverware, textiles and tapestries have been donated to the galleries. A great example is the Barr Smith family and the collection of Morris decorative arts that we hold. The Barr Smith family commissioned new pieces and went on buying trips to Europe so the history of the city is very important to the evolution of the collection.

Why is it important for the gallery to acquire the work of emerging designers?

With the collection we are always looking for people that are doing something new, the difference with art over time is not its message it is its form. As art evolves, the way it’s communicated continually changes and that’s the exciting thing about art so we are keen to foster artists that are pushing the envelope and trying to doing something new. We want to be able to tell the story of the people who push the envelope. When I look for emerging innovative people  it’s not just looking at young people it’s looking at anybody that is doing something new.

What influenced the decision for the Art Gallery of South Australia to move towards thematic display?

A couple of years ago we made the decision to move towards thematic displays rather than chronological displays or displays based on media. We decided to collapse those boundaries because the richness of things from different times from different materials gave the narrative of art a greater sense of depth and multidimensionality, so we developed a system of displaying our collection based on a big idea. A big idea, for example, might be mortality or beauty. Within the rooms we haven’t made a judgement over a vase, a piece of furniture, painting or sculpture by displaying them together we have tried to blur the notion of art hierarchy. People think that a painting is better than a chair but I think that those sorts of hierarchies are a bit old fashioned, we want to elevate everybody. We want people to think about what was in the artists mind and not make judgements about one being fine art. Galleries are not about classifying things, galleries are about amplifying ideas. For me, it’s about the tension of the ideas and by rubbing the past and the present and different mediums against each other I hope that the audience find it exciting, thought provoking and curious.

Have thematic displays made art more accessible?

Ultimately, I want to foster curiosity in our audiences and that’s the role that our thematic displays try to do. When you walk into our first room at the gallery, which is the room about Classicism, you see a Roman bust sculpture in marble, you see Marc Newson’s prototype of the Lockheed chair, William Bouguereau’s Virgin and Child, and a sculpture by Mark Quinn. All of the works are in very different mediums and there is about 2000 years of difference between all of them but they talk about the enduring themes that run through art. The thread about ideal beauty. It asks the audience to think and ask what is classical? What is tradition? What is the ideal form? We try to do that with a broad range of works of art, we ask the audience to think about the subject rather than prescribe the subject. I think that is the distinction. We are interested in a gallery where people connect ideas and are not prescribed a solution.

What will you look for in the winning designs?

I’ll be looking for people that take the past and inject something fresh into the future, be it a chair, a table, a side board, anything but someone that has a unique voice. Someone who speaks with a unique perspective in a design capacity and can take a classic and turn it on its head. Trying to develop a new way of articulating a function that’s unexpected they are the things that excite me. I’m addicted to new ideas.