On Wednesday night, it was my great honour to accept a commendation to the Gallery for its long-term cultural engagement with Japan. Presented by Consul-General Mr Hidehiro Hosaka, the Commendation from Fumio Kishida, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, acknowledged the Gallery’s contribution to the enhancement of mutual understanding and the promotion of friendship and goodwill between Japan and Australia.
We are indebted to Consul-General Hosaka, and his predecessor, Ms Yoko Yanagisawa, for nominating us for this illustrious award, and humbled by the Japanese Government’s recognition. To me, it acknowledges many individuals who have built this special friendship over almost three decades. In particular, the Gallery’s Chair from 1987 to 1995, Richard Austin, OBE, drove the early engagement. In one of his earliest speeches in that role, he tellingly urged that ‘…we in the West should recognise the appeal of types of civilisation more venerable and more artistic than our own’. He was, I think we can fairly say, an unabashed Japanophile, and he unerringly steered us on course for a long period of amicable relations.
From an auspicious exhibition exchange with Saitama and the development of the Six Old Kilns collection in the late 1980s, our links with Japan have strengthened through eight Asia Pacific Triennials, from 1993 to the present day. They have been punctuated by even deeper looks at the country’s contemporary, modern and historical visual culture. These were explicitly celebrated by a focus on Japan across the summer of 2014–15, which encompassed our Collection exhibition ‘We can make another future: Japanese art since after 1989’ and ‘Future Beauty’ from the Kyoto Costume Institute among many other strands.
We have been fortunate to foster lasting relationships with now senior Japanese artists: Lee Ufan, Takashi Murakami and Yasumasa Morimura among them. For example, as part of the 2002 Asia Pacific Triennial, Yayoi Kusama collaborated with us on an interactive project for children – The obliteration room – which she later gifted to the Gallery, and has since been staged around to the world and experienced by almost five million people in Europe, Asia and the Americas.
Our engagement with Japan continues unabated. A collaborative exhibition with colleagues in museums in Tokyo and Osaka, supported by the Japan Foundation – ‘Time of others’ – opens at GOMA in June this year, and we look forward to many future opportunities to build on this warm friendship.
I extend my warmest thanks to Consul-General Hosaka and Consuls Hirashima and Watabe for their hospitality and friendship in delivering this recognition.