Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)
12 Nov 1991 to 15 Feb 1992
Valerio Adami, Joseph Beuys, Daniel Buren, Jack Bush, Juan Davila, James Doolin, Gilbert & George, Keith Haring, Robert Indiana, Maria Kozic, Roy Lichtenstein, Nam June Paik, A.R. Penck, John W. Power, Vivienne Shark Lewitt, Cindy Sherman, Jean Tinguely, Peter Tyndall, Ugo Rondinone
The Museum of Contemporary Art opened its doors to the public in November 1991. It was established through a bequest by Australian expatriate artist John Power (1881-1943), who left his personal fortune to the University of Sydney to inform and educate Australians about international contemporary visual art. It is these principles that informed the MCA’s dedication to exhibiting, collecting and interpreting contemporary art. The vision of the founding Director Leon Paroissien and Chief Curator Bernice Murphy was manifest from its earliest years – a commitment to innovative programming with ground-breaking exhibitions of contemporary art from Australia, the Asia Pacific region and around the world.
Opening Transformations: The Museum Collection was the first exhibition to be held in the MCA. Curated by Bernice Murphy, the exhibition showcased works from the extensive J. W. Power Collection, organised thematically: identity; optical and kinetic art; the works of John Power himself; Australian works; Aboriginal works; prints; the works of Joseph Beuys; images in reproduction; history; key works; drawing; and abstraction.
In his lifetime, John Power was an avid collector of international art and his bequest to the University of Sydney, revealed twenty years after his death in 1962, had a very specific mandate: the acquisition of the most recent contemporary international art; education programs focused on contemporary art; and, a dedicated museum to house these eclectic works and make them accessible to the general public. It took another twenty years for the Power Institute to find and secure funding for a suitable building – the Maritime Services Building, which is now the Museum of Contemporary Art. During that time, the Curator of the Collection had a small budget allocated to acquiring new works from international artists, and bought works from emerging American and European artists.
This first exhibition signaled a turning point for the Power Bequest – its resources were used for more education and academic purposes within the University of Sydney, while the Museum of Contemporary Art began collecting works of art for its own collection, focusing on contemporary Australian works that complemented the J.W. Power Collection by providing an international context for Australian art, and vice versa.