Three artists – Gareth Jones-Roberts, Leonard Annois and Charles Bush – were commissioned to document the Melbourne campus site at Bundoora before and during building.
Those paintings, the first acquired by the University, formed the foundation for a major public art collection that today holds more than 2,000 post 1960s and contemporary Australian art works.
Dr Vincent Alessi, artistic director of the La Trobe University Museum of Art, says the collection includes the largest holding of works by Australian surrealist, Bernard Boles. Other significant works are by Fred Williams, Leonard French – including the multi-panel ‘Legend of Sinbad’, formerly the centrepiece of Melbourne’s iconic post-war ‘Legend Café’ in Bourke Street – as well as significant works by more contemporary artists like Juan Ford, Sam Lynch and Darren Wardle.
The Melbourne campus also features a sculpture park of more than 20 public works. There’s the ‘large glass’ in front of the library, the only work of that scale by expatriate artist Allen David, who now lives in New York.
Other highlights include Four Seasons, a set of stained glass panels by Leonard French, who is probably best-known for his glass ceiling at the National Gallery of Victoria. Other very important works are three sculptures by Inge King, and Charles Robb’s quirky ‘Landmark’ – known by Melbournians as the ‘Upside Down Charles La Trobe’ – which once stood in the city.
The University also has one of the largest and most important collections of Chinese propaganda posters outside of China. Assembled by former Professor of Education, Stewart Fraser, it features close to a thousand posters from the 1960s to the ‘80s.
‘We have the Etta Hirsh Ceramics Collection of more than 300 pieces,’ says Dr Alessi, ‘and an ethnographic collection of about 500 objects, mainly from Papua New Guinea and Australia, with some from Africa. And the 500 piece Dunmoochin Foundation Art Collection – established by Australian artist, the late Clifton Pugh – is on long-term loan to the University.’
Dr Alessi says La Trobe’s philosophy is not to collect for the sake of collecting. The knowledge people take from a university must also have a cultural aspect.
‘Public campus exhibitions and touring exhibitions are therefore a priority for us. Many of the works are displayed across metropolitan and regional campuses for the benefit of students, staff and the outside community.’
Apart from many generous donations, works have been acquired through purchase, an artist in residence program and La Trobe’s sponsorship of public art prizes.