Interview: Ruth McDougall, Curator ‘No. 1 Neighbour’

Ruth McDougall / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

We caught up with Ruth McDougall, Curator of Pacific Art and the curator behind the 2016 exhibition ‘No.1 Neighbour: Art from Papua New Guinea 1966–2016

The exhibition focused on the vibrancy of contemporary artistic expression within Papua New Guinea, and considered Australia’s strong historical ties to its closest neighbour through some of the earliest works from PNG acquired for the Gallery’s Collection. In addition to the spectacular Kwoma spirit house installation the exhibition included carvings, masks, shields, bilum (string bags), nioge (barkcloth), sculpture, photography, printmaking and painting.

Kwoma Arts, Papua New Guinea est. 2012 / Kwoma people, East Sepik Province / ‘No.1 Neighbour’ installation view of Koromb (spirit house) 2012 / Synthetic polymer paint, plywood, blackbutt, steel / Purchased 2012. Queensland Art Gallery / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Kwoma Arts / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA
Installation view of ‘No. 1 Neighbour′ featuring bilums from the Gallery’s Collection / © The artists / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

The best thing about working with artists from the Pacific is that they are a community. An exhibition only happens because of the energy and commitment that they and my colleagues here at QAGOMA put in. We like to celebrate by sharing food and giving thanks together at the end of opening night. Ruth McDougall, Curator of Pacific Art

What is the most interesting thing you learned while curating ‘No. 1 Neighbour’?

That tok pisin ­– the creole language spoken in PNG – came from Queensland! It was developed so that individuals from different cultural groups throughout Melanesia could communicate with others who had been coerced into working on the Queensland sugar farms.

What is the most exciting thing happening in Pacific art at the moment?

I am excited by how confidently emerging Indigenous leaders are facing the challenges of our contemporary world. I am really enjoying the work by people such as activist Jennifer Waiko, Geraldine Paul’s community reconciliation projects, and Serina Sumanop’s organisation, The Youth Inc.

The Pacific fashion industry is also something to watch – keep an eye out for Stella Magazine’s runway, the Fiji Fashion Week and the annual Goroka Bilum Festival. The strength of women’s voices in art and design is incredibly exciting.

What can we all do to promote good relationships with PNG?

Firstly, we can actively seek more nuanced understandings of PNG, its cultures and its people by engaging with the communities based here in Australia. I would also love to see the media supplement the overly sensational accounts with reports from journalists such as the ABC’s Sean Dorney, The Australian’s Rowan Callick and author Drusilla Modjesca.

And of course, if you can, travel there!

Your job takes you all over the Pacific — do you have any travel tips you’ve picked up along the way?

Get out of the big hotels, find the local markets, talk to people and try local food.

Favourite piece in the Collection?

The woven Puk puk (crocodile) by Angelina Gumowe, Kwoma Art’s Koromb (spirit house) and Mary Gole’s Milne Bay Cooking Pot.

I love prizing open Angelina Gumowe’s woven beasts wide, sharp toothed jaws to show audiences the tongue the artist has ingeniously woven inside. Its like a secret joke she shares with us and totally in keeping with the fabulous, dry humour that accompanies many conversations I have with PNG artists.’

The Milne Bay pot was one of the first works of Mary Gole that I acquired for the Collection. I love the elegant  simplicity of the cooking pot with its expansive belly able to feed many.

Installation of Angelina Andiboli Gumowe’s Puk puk (crocodile) 2011 in ‘No. 1 Neighbour’ / Woven gumba tree fibre with natural pigments / Purchased 2011. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / Photographs: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA
Gole, ML, Joyce Mary Aresepa, Papua New Guinea b.1951 / Cooking pot 1997 / Hand-thrown earthenware with incised decoration and beeswax / Purchased 2011. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Mary Gole

What would we be most surprised to learn about being a curator?

The word ‘curator’ means ‘to care for’. At the heart of what we do is about relationships with artists, communities, objects and audiences.

I have a few…


Preferred method of transport?


What are you looking forward to?

Travelling back to PNG.

If I wasn’t a Curator, I’d be…

a writer.

Ruth McDougall installing ‘No. 1 Neighbour’ in the Queensland Art Gallery’s watermall / / Photographs: Mark Sherwood © QAGOMA
‘No. 1 Neighbour’ installed in the Queensland Art Gallery’s watermall / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

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No. 1 Neighbour: Art in Papua New Guinea 1966-2016‘ Queensland Art Gallery 15 October 2016 – 29 January 2017


2013: GOMA turns 10 countdown


With GOMA turning 10 in just a couple of weeks, we look back at one of the most dramatic exhibitions held at GOMA. ‘Cai Guo-Qiang: Falling Back to Earth’ (23 November 2013 – 11 May 2014) showcased major new works by a global artist whose large-scale installations and explosion events have made him one of the most innovative figures in contemporary art. This exhibition was the artist’s first solo exhibition in Australia and a GOMA exclusive.

‘Falling Back to Earth’ both spectacular and meditative, presented a beautiful, thought-provoking vision of our relationship with the earth and with each other. Four installations featured two new commissions directly inspired by the landscapes of southeast Queensland, which the artist visited in 2011.

Related: Falling Back to Earth

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Cai Guo-Qiang, China b.1957 / Heritage 2013 / 99 life-sized replicas of animals: polystyrene, gauze, resin and hide / Commissioned 2013 with funds from the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Diversity Foundation through and with the assistance of the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Cai Guo-Qiang

The centrepiece of the exhibition — Heritage 2013 — featured 99 replicas of animals from around the world, gathered together to drink from a blue lake surrounded by pristine white sand, reminiscent of the lakes of Moreton Bay’s islands. Heritage was acquired for the Gallery’s Collection with the generous support of the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Diversity Foundation through and with the assistance of the Gallery’s Foundation.

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Installation view of Eucalyptus 2013
Cai Guo-Qiang, China b.1957 / Installation view of Head On 2006 at the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane / Deutsche Bank Collection, commissioned by Deutsche Bank AG / © FMGBGuggenheim Bilbao Museoa, 2009

The second installation, Eucalyptus 2013 responded to the ancient trees of Lamington National Park in the Gold Coast hinterland, while the third, Head On 2006 is a striking installation of 99 wolves leaping en masse into a glass wall, displayed for the first time in Australia.

May King Tsang preparing tea and demonstrating the process for Gallery visitors during a gongfu ceremony in GOMA’s Tea Pavilion

The fourth installation, the Tea Pavilion was conceived by the artist and located within the heart of the exhibition, the Tea Pavilion was a space to learn more about the history and significance of Chinese Tea and also a place to reflect on the works on display.

Cai Guo-Qiang: Falling Back to EarthExhibition publication

Go into the draw to win the 204 page publication Cai Guo-Qiang: Falling Back to Earth featuring essays by Australian and international authors, with the artist’s new works extensively documented through spectacular installation photography . Cai Guo-Qiang also writes on a significant, but lesser-known, aspect of his practice – his collaborations with children. The publication traces Cai’s unique history with QAGOMA, as one of the first public institutions to collect the artist’s work. It also follows his early career inclusion in the ‘Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (1996 and 1999). Value $49.95

Cai Guo Qiang / Blue dragon & bridge crossing / Project commissioned for the 3rd Asia-Pacific Triennial 1999 | ©: The artist

The Children’s Art Centre also presented ‘Cai Guo-Qiang Kids: Let’s Create an Exhibition with a Boy Named Cai’ where you could make and display objects in miniature gallery spaces, create spectacular multimedia gunpowder drawings and fireworks events and watch a short film written by Cai Guo-Qiang about art and adventure.

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Feature image detail: Cai Guo-Qiang Heritage 2013

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2012: GOMA turns 10 countdown

Erwin Wurm / Instructional drawing 2012 / Plinth, found objects, instructional drawing, realised by the public / Commissioned for ‘Sculpture is Everything’ / Collection and ©: The artist

In 2012 the Gallery showcased major new acquisitions installed throughout the ground floor of GOMA. ‘Sculpture is Everything’ (18 August – 28 October 2012) explored the extraordinarily diverse and surprising field of contemporary sculpture — from found objects to kinetic structures, from monuments to installation and land art, from pop assemblages to ritual objects.

Form, material and three-dimensional space were considered to define the medium of sculpture with the exhibition pointing to how these sculptural concerns are played out in film, photography, painting and performance. The exhibition featured works by Australian and international artists including Ai Weiwei, Martin Creed, Olaf Breuning, Thomas Demand, Lara Favaretto, Simryn Gill, Romuald Hazoumé, Gordon Hookey, Zilvinas Kempinas, Anish Kapoor, Gordon Matta-Clark, John Mawurndjul, Henrique Oliveira, Dennis Oppenheim, Michael Sailstorfer, Kathy Temin, Ken Thaiday Sr, Rachel Whiteread and Erwin Wurm.


Installation views of ‘Sculpture is Everything’ 2012 / Photographs: Mark Sherwood © QAGOMA

Do you remember the exhibitions from 2012 as we continue the countdown to GOMA’s tenth birthday in December?

‘The 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (8 December 2012 — 14 April 2013) marked the twentieth anniversary of the exhibition, and presented an opportunity to reflect on the unprecedented transformations that occurred in Australia, Asia and the Pacific over those past two decades; ‘Propaganda?’ (23 June – 21 October 2012) considered the varied approaches of politically motivated art from the traditional forms of painting and sculpture, to mass media such as prints, posters, banners and photography; ‘Lightness & Gravity’ (3 March — 21 October 2012) showcased a series of thematic constellations on the longstanding philosophical discussion of the fundamental character of life as weighty, meaningful and constrained by history or or as playful and arbitrary; ‘Across Country’ (5 November 2011 — 21 October 2012) profiled the history of Indigenous Australian art from across the country; ‘Contemporary Australia: Women’ (21 April – 22 July 2012) the second in the Gallery’s Contemporary Australia exhibition series celebrated the diversity, energy and innovation of contemporary women artists; and ‘Social Networking’ (3 March — 1 July 2012) showed how contemporary artists were exploring social contact with their subjects and audiences.

sculpture is everything Gallery of Modern Art installation view
Michael Sailstorfer, Germany b. 1979 / Wolken (Clouds) 2010 / Tyre inner tubes / Purchased 2011 with funds from Tim Fairfax, AM, through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Michael Sailstorfer 2010/VG Bild-Kunst. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney, 2016 / Photograph: Mark Sherwood © QAGOMA
'Sculpture is Everything' Installation view
Lara Favaretto, Italy b.1973 / Gummo IV 2012 / Iron, car wash brushes and electrical motors / Purchased 2012 with funds from Tim Fairfax, AM, through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist / Photograph: Mark Sherwood © QAGOMA

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‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ comes to GOMA

Adi Granov / The Avengers / Keyframe for Marvel’s The Avengers 2012 / © 2017 MARVEL

QAGOMA will present the major exhibition ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe‘ exclusively at GOMA from 27 May 2017.

The exhibition will follow Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and their comrades and adversaries from comic book page to cinema screen in the first major Marvel-related exhibition to be staged in Australia and the largest ever presented in an art museum.

‘Marvel’ will use original artwork, film props, costumes and the moving image to bring to life the interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe which also features characters such as Hulk, Black Widow, Ant-Man, Black Panther and the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Drawn from the collection of Marvel Studios and Marvel Entertainment and private collections, the exhibition will give significant focus to the creative artists who translate the drawn narrative to the screen through production design and storyboarding, costume and prop design, and special effects and postproduction, on a series which has redefined the cinematic super hero.

The exhibition experience will be all encompassing and extend into GOMA’s Australian Cinémathèque with a retrospective of the Marvel Cinematic Universe of films and will highlight the Gallery’s longstanding commitment to engaging with contemporary culture.

Thor’s hammer, Iron Man’s suit of armour and Captain America’s shield will be among the 300 plus objects, films, costumes, drawings and other ephemera presented in the exhibition following the success of filming Thor: Ragnarok on the Gold Coast, Queensland.

Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ has been organised by the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) in collaboration with Marvel Entertainment. The exhibition has received additional support from the Queensland Government though Tourism and Events Queensland (TEQ) and Arts Queensland.

All about the bilum


For centuries, the bilum bag has been made from natural fibres native to Papua New Guinea. Strips of leaves, grasses or tree bark are battered and scraped until the plant matter becomes fibrous then dried in the sun. Once dried, fibres are twisted between the hand and thigh into a single strong yarn. This is a very time consuming process, a lot of yarn is required to weave a bilum bag and only experienced weavers  know when the yarn has been twisted enough. Colour can be added to the yarn by burying it in mud to get a variety of tones, alternatively fruits, vegetables and leaves can be a source of colour. Once coloured, the yarn is then made into a bilum through a process know as looping with a needle.

Utilitarian in its functionality and stunning in its creative expression, a bilum is the traditional string bag made by PNG women. This traditional craft is a skill passed from generation to generation. A bilum is made in a variety of shapes and styles depending on its purpose. The patterns reflect provenance, current events and stories; each bag is imbued with layers of rich historical, cultural and symbolic significance.

A traditional woman’s bilum has a short, wide handle that fits around the forehead, so the bag hangs down her back and leaves her hands free. Her bilum can expand to ten times its ‘resting’ size when filled with firewood, harvested yams, and often a baby coddled comfortably in a blanket!


Installation view of ‘No. 1 Neighbour: Art in Papua New Guinea 1966-2016’ featuring bilums from the Gallery’s Collection / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

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No. 1 Neighbour: Art in Papua New Guinea 1966-2016‘ / Queensland Art Gallery / 15 October 2016 – 29 January 2017


Benjamin Law shares his story of growing up with GOMA


Hear what GOMA means to Benjamin Law, GOMA 10 Ambassador. Benjamin sits in GOMA’s official ‘GOMA turns 10′ Ambassador chair, the QTZ limited edition GOLD by designer Alex Lotersztain

Benjamin Law is a Queensland-born, Sydney-based journalist, columnist and screenwriter best known for his two books The Family Law (2010) and Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East (2012). A television adaptation of The Family Law recently premiered on SBS to critical acclaim. As part of GOMA turning ten, the Gallery has launched a new Ambassador program of supporters and asked Benjamin his recollections of GOMA.

In 2004 Queensland started building GOMA. I lived in Brisbane this whole time, but have no recollection of any construction taking place. In my memory, GOMA wasn’t there, then suddenly it just was: inevitable, solid and right. All I remember about my first visit was walking through the doona-like, sedating fug of the Brisbane summer before being jolted awake by the Gallery’s air-conditioning inside, then being jolted awake again by ‘The 5th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ — the impressive geographical scope of which was finally matched by the gallery that housed it. Brisbane was always a great city, but in one hit it was suddenly a world city, confident of its place, not just in Australia but in its region and hemisphere, too.

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Installation view of Eko Nugroho’s site specific work for APT5 It’s all about the Destiny Isn’t it? 2006 / © The artist / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

But what I loved most about GOMA was the building itself, its wall-to-wall views of the river, the way it hugged the lip of the water and let the sun in at every opportunity. Whereas other modern art galleries are often similar once you get inside, GOMA was unmistakably Queensland-ish: sun-filled, unpretentious and friendly; vast in size and great for families. As the architects said themselves, GOMA was designed to be ‘impressive and monumental without losing its openness and freshness, and without being intimidating; international yet responsive to local conditions and the south-east Queensland context’. Brisbane’s signature building didn’t even try to compete with similar galleries in Australia or abroad, and instead embraced everything that makes Queensland great.

At the same time, what I also like is that Brisbane’s most beloved building — much like Sydney’s — is that it isn’t a monument or spire, palace or cathedral, ruin or relic. It’s a home of the arts. And while you might think Australia and the arts have never been synonymous, keep in mind we now live in a country where more citizens go to galleries than AFL matches.

In the last 10 years, I’ve been to art galleries in Tokyo, Amsterdam, London, New York, Naoshima, Hobart and Sydney, because I’m one lucky jerk. And still, some of my all-time favourite art experiences have been at GOMA: encountering what appears to be a giant worried mother by Ron Mueck with my own mother (In Bed 2005), in which a woman made of polyester resin, fibreglass, polyurethane and horse hair lies in bed, gigantic, rendering you into a child again); and a stag made of bubbled glass with my sisters. Mostly, it’s because the art is so exquisite, it briefly knocks the air out of my lungs. But it’s also partly because I’ve shared these experiences with my family. It feels silly to say this, but GOMA is my family’s gallery. My mum’s a fiercely loyal subscriber.

Ron Mueck installation view weekend crowds
Installation view of Ron Mueck’s In bed 2005 / Purchased 2008. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA
Kohei Nawa, Japan b.1975 / PixCell-Double Deer #4 2010 / Mixed media / Purchased 2010 with funds from the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Diversity Foundation through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist
Sydney group Canyons performed a live score for Daniel Boyd’s 100 Million Nights moving-image work on the last night of APT7, 2013 / Photograph: Brodie Standen © QAGOMA

My boyfriend has played music at GOMA Up Late. And every time I go, I think this is another thing that distinguishes GOMA from the others: it’s made for families.

Looking at Brisbane’s skyline, you don’t have to be a historian to get the sense that this city has been subjected to a terrible knack for demolishing old, great buildings. Queenslanders love GOMA so much, it can’t be anything else but permanent. And now, tens of thousands of people a year fly up and into Brisbane to experience the likes of a Warhol or Valentino, a Lynch or Sherman. From where I now live in Sydney, I see advertisements and billboards for GOMA — Australia’s largest gallery of modern and contemporary art — constantly. For a decade now, Queensland’s given Australia some of the best exhibitions in the country. And then, when you’re done seeing them, you can head outside, laze on plush lawns to read books and wrangle toddlers, or soak up the sun as the river gently laps nearby. GOMA’s not operatic or bombastic. Instead, it’s a big, gentle miracle of a place. Much like Brisbane and Queensland, really.

This extract by Benjamin Law on his recollections of GOMA is from the 2016 GOMA turns 10 Summer edition of Artlines, the Gallery’s seasonal publication free to QAGOMA Members each quarter or available for purchase at the QAGOMA Stores.

Valentino Exclusive preview
Viewing ‘Valentino, Retrospective’, 2010 / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

GOMA is a place where people come together to be inspired and imaginations spark. A place where ideas meet. This summer will be packed with even more excitement as GOMA turns ten, so come along and help us celebrate from 3 December 2016.

This milestone for GOMA and Brisbane is being marked by a new public artwork by Queensland Indigenous artist Judy Watson, and major free exhibitions, including: ‘Lucent‘, showcasing art of Australia and the Pacific; a second chapter of ‘A World View: The Tim Fairfax Gift‘, including a captivating new light work by renowned artist Anthony McCall; and the spectacular ‘Sugar Spin: you, me, art and everything‘, featuring over 200 contemporary artworks exploring light, space, architecture and the senses. From brand-new immersive works to large-scale visitor favourites, ‘Sugar Spin’ reflects our complex connections to the natural world with an explosion of colour, sensation and spinning delights.