WA Art Gallery’s $300m collection at risk of damage, damning auditor-general report finds



WA Art Gallery’s $300m collection at risk of damage, damning auditor-general report finds

The WA Art Gallery lacks space to store its works appropriately, the report found. (ABC News: Louise Merrillees)

Western Australia’s $300 million state art collection is at risk of damage or loss thanks to a lack of storage space and appropriate conservation, an auditor-general’s report has found.

The report, released today by acting auditor-general Sandra Labuschange, said the collection was at risk because of “storage, conservation, and monitoring issues”.

It found the Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA), which manages the collection, does not know where all its works are stored nor what condition they are in.

This is because its database is poorly documented, key records are incomplete and there has been no stocktake since 2010.

But AGWA director and chief executive Dr. Stefano Carboni said there were only 10 items out of the near-18,000 works that did not have a location recorded in the database.

The report also noted problems with storage.

“AGWA struggles to balance its responsibilities to grow and also preserve the state’s $300 million art collection,” the report stated.

“A significant shortage of appropriate storage space places artworks at risk of damage from not being stored in line with industry standards, and limits access to the collection for conservation work and public engagement.”

Auditors observed full storage shelves and artworks stored in almost every aisle and walkway. (Supplied: Office of the Auditor-General WA)

The report found many examples of overcrowded storage areas and art being stored in aisles and walkways.

“AGWA does not have a plan to ensure all artworks are conserved, with conservation almost entirely focused on the small part of the collection going on display each year.”

Ms. Labuschange said the findings were a serious concern.

“We have a $300 million asset of the state which isn’t being properly conserved and looked after,” she said.

“Generally, people tend to down play this type of asset because it’s art, but if we had a public building in that same condition we would not be happy.”

She said the report did not consider any works that may have been damaged as a result of storage management.

No artworks damaged, the director says

Dr. Carboni said he accepted the findings in a “general way”, especially the issue of storage, which he said he had been reporting for years to the board and the State Government.

“This is not new,” Dr. Carboni said.

“I am not aware of any museum that doesn’t have storage issues, the database is always a difficult beast.

“We are trying to contain, as much as possible, the risk that’s associated with having crammed spaces in storage.”

Dr. Carboni said no artworks had been damaged or were “at risk” currently because only specialized people could access the storage areas.

“We do the best to minimize the risk and I certainly don’t have to report any damage to the works that has happened in recent times.”

Dr. Carboni said the audit was a good opportunity to push for improvements, especially with the storage issue.

‘Fixing the issues will not be easy’

The collection is kept almost entirely at the AGWA building at the Perth Cultural Centre.

It is home to almost 18,000 works from WA, Australia, and international artists.

The audit report identified 99 artworks that needed treatment more than seven years ago.

It is unclear whether these works have been treated.

“Establishing a plan is particularly important given the limited resources AGWA has available to carry out this work,” the report found.

The report praised the way the gallery had attracted visitors over the years but said more needed to be done to reach a regional WA audience.

A number of recommendations were made, including fixing the lack of storage space, making artwork more accessible and steps to better manage and maintain the location and condition of the collection.

“While fixing the issues will not be easy in a time of restrained government spending, the AGWA staff we met showed a dedication and passion to finding ways to address the issues,” Ms. Labuschange said.

Art Gallery of WA
The Art Gallery has admitted it has some “critical” issues to address. (Matthew Perkins: ABC Local Radio)

Gallery recognizes ‘critical’ problems

In its reply, AGWA accepted the findings on the need to improve the care and management of the collection, and the need to broaden its access.

It said it recognized the “critical” need for additional storage and was working with the Government to find a “speedy” offsite solution.

AGWA said there was scope to improve its recordkeeping and it was working to implement improvements to its system.

It said it was working to develop an improved stocktake system and “control” of artworks by June 2019.

“AGWA will also develop a multi-year project as part of its conservation program to implement a safe tagging and external tracking system,” a spokesman said

AGWA said it was working on a three-year pilot program to tour “more high-quality visual arts exhibitions” to regional communities.

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