History of the MCA Collection

The Museum of Contemporary Art Collection commenced in 1989 when the MCA was legally constituted as a company limited by guarantee and incorporated under the provisions of the Corporations Law. The first works accessioned into the MCA Collection in May 1989 were two extraordinary barks Nialyod (Female Rainbow Serpent) and Nawarramulmul (Shooting Star Spirit) painted by John Mawurndjul in 1988. Since the inception of the Museum of Contemporary Art and the first exhibitions in the new galleries – the MCA opened on 11 November 1991 – the strongest development of the Collection has occurred in relation to its exhibition programs.

Supporting artists is one of the underpinning criteria for the MCA’s Collection. The Museum plays a role by investing in artists’ work at those key moments in their career when recognition can make all the difference. Works acquired in the early years include representations of Australian art, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art in all its forms. While the Museum continued to respect the obligations of the Power Bequest it also sought to develop new directions in its collecting that expressed Australia’s actual location and cultural affinities in a rapidly changing international cultural geography. Whilst continuing to pay attention to the latest developments occurring in Europe and America, it also intensified its link with different countries and cultures that lie close to Australia geographically. Works acquired into the Collection in the late 80s and 90s reflect the many different cultural viewpoints occurring in and around Australia at this time. As a consequence the MCA Collection encompasses a rich and dynamic collection of works which both build on the earlier development of the Collection, and explore newer fields.

There are a number of important groupings within the MCA Collection, including the Arnott’s Biscuits Collection of Aboriginal Bark Paintings, the Maningrida Collection of Aboriginal Art, the Loti and Victor Smorgon Collection of Contemporary Australian Art and the Gift of Ann Lewis AO.

The MCA has always benefitted from the support of philanthropy and generous individuals in building its Collection. In 1994 the Arnott’s Collection of Aboriginal Bark Paintings was donated to the MCA and in 1995, the Museum was the recipient of a remarkable gift of 154 Australian artworks, the Loti and Victor Smorgon Collection of Contemporary Australian Art featuring predominantly paintings from the 1980s and 1990s by artists spanning several generations. In 2010 Ann Lewis AO donated 54 works from her collection to the MCA. This generous gift was presented in the exhibition Almanac, The Gift of Ann Lewis AO which went on an extensive tour to regional galleries. More recently the MCA’s Collection has benefitted from the donation of extraordinary groups of works by Andrew and Cathy Cameron; Henry Ergas and Michael Hawker. The creation of a dedicated screen space for an ongoing program of single-screen work responds to the rise in importance of video within the MCA’s Collection, significantly enhanced by the donation of the Andrew and Cathy Cameron collection of recent video work by Australian artists.

Image: John Mawurndjul, Nialyod (Female rainbow serpent) 1988, Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds donated by Mr and Mrs Jim Bain, 1989, Image courtesy and © the artist