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Director to retire

Edmund Capon AM OBE to retire as director of Art Gallery of NSW after 33 years

3 August 2011

Edmund Capon AM OBE will retire as director of the Art Gallery of NSW at the end of this year after 33 years in the role.

The President of the Board of Trustees of the Gallery, Mr Steven Lowy AM, made the announcement today at a media conference with the Premier, Mr O’Farrell, and Mr Capon.

Mr Lowy said Mr Capon’s service to the Gallery and the cultural life of Australia had been extraordinary.

“Rarely, if ever, has a single person so embodied the spirit and ambition of an institution as has Edmund with the Art Gallery of NSW,” he said.

“Edmund’s achievements are many, but his single most significant achievement has been to make good on the goal he set for the Gallery soon after he was appointed in 1978.

“Back then, Edmund made it clear he wanted the Gallery to pursue quality and not, to use his words at the time, ‘a broad expansion of all areas at a mediocre level.’

“As we look around the Gallery today, and reflect on all that has happened under Edmund’s leadership, there can be no doubt that he has more than fulfilled that early ambition.”

Mr Lowy said Mr Capon’s more notable achievements were to:

  • create a sustainable funding base for the Gallery, primarily by establishing the Art Gallery of NSW Foundation in 1983 to raise and invest money for the purchase of major art works.
  • make the Gallery more accessible and more popular. In 1978 there were around 300,000 admissions. In 2010-11 there are 1.3 million, an incredible result even allowing for natural growth.
  • maintain and improve the quality of the collection, including major acquisitions such as Bords de la Marne by Paul Cézanne, Nude in a rocking chair by Pablo Picasso, Three bathers by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Five bells by John Olsen, First-class marksman by Sidney Nolan, Three studies from the Temeraire by Cy Twombly, Standing Buddha, China Sui dynasty, Waterbrain by Rusty Peters and Haft by Anthony Gormley.
  • stage quality major exhibitions, including The Chinese Exhibition, Gold of the Pharaohs, Masterpieces from the Guggenheim New York, Michelangelo to Matisse: Drawing the Figure, Jeffrey Smart, Papunya Tula: Genesis and Genius, Caravaggio and his world: darkness & light, Pissarro: the first Impressionist, Bill Henson, Giacometti: sculptures prints & drawings from the Maeght Foundation, The Arts of Islam: Treasures from the Nasser D Khalili collection, The Lost Buddhas and The First Emperor: China’s entombed warriors.
  • double the Gallery in 1988 with the new Bicentennial wing, opened the Asian gallery in 1990 and expanded it in 2003, created the new contemporary galleries including the John Kaldor Family Gallery in 2011.
  • create a purpose-built collection store to safely house the Gallery’s growing collection and free up more public space within the Gallery for exhibition.
  • build the Asian collection and Asian exhibition program.
  • grow a thriving Gallery membership which now stands at 30,000 members.
  • develop an engaging, accessible public programs including the unique Art After Hours program.
  • triple the collection from 10,000 to 30,000 works and now valued at $825 million.
  • publish scholarly collection books and exhibition catalogues for national and international distribution.

Mr Lowy said that listing Mr Capon’s achievements did not fully describe the impact he has made on the Gallery and the city of Sydney.

“Under his direction the Gallery has built a collection of quality and has a committed and highly motivated professional staff.

“But Edmund has made the Gallery greater than the sum of its parts. He has weaved a certain magic in the way he’s nurtured the institution over the years.

“He has made the life of the Gallery something that the community feels part of and is proud of.

“Quite simply, the Art Gallery of NSW is one of the most treasured institutions in Australia, and especially in Sydney, and Edmund deserves most of the credit for that.”

Mr Lowy said it had been a privilege for him as President of the Board of Trustees to have had the opportunity to work with Mr Capon over the past six years.

“It has been the great good fortune of the Board of Trustees to have overseen the governance of the Gallery while Edmund has been at the helm.

“His expertise, and the stability and continuity provided by his many years of dedicated service, have made the role of everyone associated with the Gallery that much more pleasurable as well as productive.

“It is fitting that we are able to coincide Edmund’s departure from the Gallery with the upcoming Picasso exhibition – a stellar exhibition for Edmund to sign off on a stellar career.”

Mr Lowy said the Trustees would immediately establish a process to select Mr Capon’s successor, including a global search to identify suitable candidates.

Media contact

Claire Martin
Tel 02 9225 1734
Mob 0414 437 588

Susanne Briggs
Tel 02 9225 1791
Mob 0412 268 320