In Conversation with Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, OBE, Director of MCA Australia

Christine Kuan
Mar 20, 2014 2:12PM

As the world looks to Australia for the upcoming 19th Biennale of Sydney, I had the privilege to speak with Elizabeth Ann (Liz Ann) Macgregor OBE, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. Among her many achievements, she has been awarded the Centenary Medal for services to the Australian public and contemporary art, the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award, and the Australia Business Arts Foundation Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Arts Business Leadership Award. In 2011, she received an OBE in the queen’s birthday honor list and the Australia Council Visual Arts Medal. In our chat, Liz Ann talks to me about the MCA’s participation in the Biennale, how to spot great talent, and what’s on the horizon for her beautiful museum next to the iconic Sydney Opera House.

Christine Kuan: This year the 19th Biennale of Sydney, “You Imagine What You Desire,” will run from March 21 to June 9, 2014, under the artistic direction of Juliana Engberg. What will MCA Australia be doing this year to participate?

Elizabeth Ann Macgregor: The MCA is showing more than 80 works by 19 artists across the museum’s Level 1 and Level 3 galleries. Additionally, a number of public programs and artist talks will take place at the MCA, including talks by Søren Thilo Funder, David Claerbout, Aurélien Froment and Emily Roysdon. Biennale Artistic Director Juliana Engberg will be in conversation with Callum Morton and John Stezaker, whilst MCA Assistant Director Blair French will share insights into the work of Douglas Gordon ahead of the artist’s presentation of the 19th Biennale keynote address.

CK: The Biennale of Sydney has been going strong since 1973. How has the art scene changed in Australia since then?

EAM: The change has been remarkable, with an extraordinary rise in public interest in contemporary art. Since the MCA reopened last year, our attendance has almost doubled. There are many more collectors and there is a growing interest in international work—more people now travel  to biennales and art fairs. However, for artists living here, the opportunities within Australia are still limited and our greatest challenge is to promote them more widely. The Biennale of Sydney provides an excellent platform by presenting Australian artists alongside their international peers.

CK: As we all know, biennials are a great way to spot new talent. Which artists in the Biennale will you be looking more closely at this March?

EAM: I am sure Juliana Engberg will have some wonderful surprises for us. It’s not just new talent though—I’m looking forward to new work by artists I have long admired, like Douglas Gordon, James Angus, Susan Norrie, Janet Cardiff, and George Bures Miller.

CK: In recent years, the contemporary art world has exploded and it seems that each year more and more people visit museums, galleries, art fairs, and biennials. Are there challenges to museums as contemporary art becomes more integrated with popular culture?

EAM: The challenge is to harness this interest and make sure that gallery visitors become more than sightseers. We want to find ways to create new generations of art lovers! This means providing a range of ways for visitors to deepen their engagement—which is where technology is so critical. Contemporary museums have the advantage of being able to give access to artists and curators, in ways that were never possible before. We need to experiment with ways to generate that interest and stimulate curiosity.

CK: What are some of the must-see works in the MCA Australia collections?

EAM: From the younger generation: Rebecca Baumann and Daniel Boyd. More established artists include Tracey Moffatt, Shaun Gladwell, Richard Bell, Imants Tillers, and Gordon Bennett.  

Explore the 19th Biennale of Sydney on Artsy.

Christine Kuan