The world comes to QAGOMA



Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and United States’ President Barack Obama at the G20 Summit Leaders’ reception at GOMA / Photograph: Rob Maccoll/G20 Australia
Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott with United States President Barack Obama at the G20 Leaders’ Summit Reception at GOMA / Photograph: Rob Maccoll/G20 Australia
The G20 Leaders’ Summit Reception at GOMA / Photograph: Rob Maccoll/G20 Australia

Last Saturday evening, in the midst of the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Brisbane and sweltering November temperatures, the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art  was honoured to host the world leaders, their spouses and their entourages, as well as many other distinguished guests at functions across both QAG and GOMA. In addition to mounting displays from the QAGOMA Collection, the Gallery catered the full suite of events in the most elaborate set of simultaneous functions ever mounted across the two buildings.

GOMA’s sweeping level 3 galleries were host to a cocktail reception for 350 guests amidst a specially selected group of contemporary works depicting the country’s varied and great landscapes. With their visions of a vast and changing Australia – painted on majestic canvases or car bonnets, using aerial viewpoints or richly textured close-ups – these works by Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists expressed the country’s sublime interior and shorelines to guests from across the globe.

Australia’s Treasurer Joe Hockey greets his dinner guests at the G20 Finance Ministers’ Dinner at GOMA / Photograph: Dominika Lis/G20 Australia
Australia’s Treasurer Joe Hockey’s hosts a dinner at the G20 Finance Ministers’ Dinner at GOMA / Photograph: Dominika Lis/G20 Australia

The large group broke off into several smaller functions. At GOMA, a dinner for the attending spouses of the leaders overlooked the Brisbane River, while a sitting for 160, hosted by Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey, filled the Long Gallery in the resource lounge for the current exhibition ‘Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion’.

G20 Leaders' Dinner
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo chat at the start of a G20 Leaders’ Working Dinner hosted by Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott at QAG / Photograph: Andrew Taylor/G20 Australia

The main act was at QAG, where the Watermall was taken over by a large stage which hosted all of the 34 world leaders who attended the G20. The Gallery installed three majestic paintings by senior Queensland artist Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda (Sally Gabori) for the event – panoramic and electric depictions of her Bentinck Island country.

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu at the G20 Leaders’ Working Dinner at QAG / Photograph: Simon Wright

The proceedings were punctuated by performances from Australian soprano Emma Matthews, acclaimed singer-songwriter-musician Megan Washington, Julliard-trained Paul Grabowsky and the compelling voice of Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu.

G20 Leaders' Dinner
Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks to United States’ President Barack Obama at a dinner for the G20 Leaders’ Working Dinner at QAG / Photograph:Andrew Taylor/G20 Australia

This working dinner was fuelled by an entrée of Hervey Bay scallop, organic Lockyer Valley cauliflower and Mooloolaba squid broth, followed by a Kenilworth VIP Wagyu fillet with Kalbar carrot textures, organic black garlic and a Symphony Hill Shiraz jus. Dinner at all events was rounded out with the Gallery’s signature Wattle seed custard, Daintree chocolate and vanilla curd.

Across both, the Gallery’s food and events team, including 70 front-of-house and 30 chefs delivered astonishing results on the plates for the leaders and their support staff, not to mention another thousand meals for G20 support staff over the weekend.

The mammoth feat of coordination and discretion was the culmination of 16 months of planning that took in almost every section of QAGOMA’s staff at one time or another.  The contributions from Food and Beverage Services & Events, Protection and Services, Facilities Management, Design, Workshop, Installation and Curatorial teams made for a flawless outcome on the night, with equally valuable and responsive support from the Gallery’s Registration, Information Management, Governance and Media teams – in other words, this was a huge team effort that connected the entire Gallery staff.

The G20 Leaders’ Working Dinner at QAG / Photograph: Simon Wright

Of course, it was more than just the work of the Gallery’s team. The event was staged under the direction of, and in close consultation, with the G20 Taskforce and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and featured entertainment coordinated by outgoing Brisbane Festival director Noel Staunton and wines matched by James Halliday.

The response from our global guests to the Gallery buildings, the artwork and the food and service was overwhelming, and QAGOMA is grateful for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to host an event of this calibre.

For one night only on 3 December, the GOMA Restaurant is offering the chance to dine like a world leader, with the same set menu and matched wines served to the Presidents, Prime Ministers and Chancellors of G20.

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