Museum of Brisbane - Qantas

Museum of Brisbane - Qantas

Dome lounge,

Museum of Brisbane

talkabout museums

photography: atmosphere photography

TOP of

the TOWN

A heritage-sensitive renovation of the Queensland

capital’s City Hall to incorporate the Museum

of Brisbane has opened up new spaces for

contemplation of the city’s past, present and future.

Words Ashley Hay

july 2013 QANTAS 115

museums talkabout

Clockwise from above:

Light Fantastic: Expo

88 Parades Rewired

exhibition with the

echidna, bearded

dragon and Ants’

Picnic maquettes;

the City Hall dome;

museum entry

Step out of the lift

at the new Museum of

Brisbane, high on the

City Hall’s renovated

roof, and you meet a dazzling

stretch of light and brass. A wall

of glass displays the hall’s verdigris-stained dome,

hidden by the building’s sandstone from the gaze of

the street below. “It’s rare for a city to get a new space

in the context of an old building,” says museum director

Peter Denham. “That dome, it really is beautiful.”

Overseen by architectural companies Tanner

Kibble Denton and GHD, the City Hall’s renovations

retain and display facets of the building’s original

details, while the museum’s new space expands and

revivifies pavilions formerly used as staff dining

rooms and storage. From its northern edge, the iconic

clock tower rises like an exclamation.

The purpose of a city museum, as Denham sees it,

is to speak to both residents and visitors – “I don’t

differentiate between the two”. Having reopened in

April, its halls currently hold three distinct exhibitions.

The biggest – on-show until 2016 – is The River,

a suitably meandering investigation of Brisbane’s

eponymous watercourse. Components

include artist Lloyd Rees’ pencil sketches

and journalistic impressions; maps and

plans; a staved wooden water pipe from

circa 1860; and new work by visual artists

including Megan Cope and Euan

Macleod. Where visitors might expect a definitive history of Brisbane, “we thought,

instead of telling the history, why not tell a history – through the river?” The river

is the reason the city is located where it is, Denham explains, “so we wanted to use

the river as our central point.”

In the adjoining Clem Jones Gallery, Panoramas (until October 6) documents

Brisbane’s changing shape and skyline from 1862. The remaining rooms offer Light

Fantastic: Expo 88 Parades Rewired (until January 27), celebrating the six-month

World Expo in 1988, seen by many as a turning point in Brisbane’s story. Mounting

the exhibition was an act of recovery. Twice-daily parades were the focus of Expo’s

bonanza of outdoor entertainment, but most floats, costumes and props were sold

afterwards and much documentary material slated to be destroyed. With displays

of souvenirs, merchandise, conceptual sketches and stencils for the floats, and the

few extant puppets, costumes and videos, this reconstituted memory shines.

Most remarkable, perhaps, are pieces remade for the museum: The Planets,

a spectacular rotating wheel rebuilt by the craftsmen who built it 25 years ago, and

exquisite maquettes (scale models) of three parade floats – an echidna, a bearded

dragon and Ants’ Picnic (a cupcake, lamington and sandwich roll) – which were

generated from their original designs using 3D-printing.

dome photography: cassie grace; other images: atmosphere photography

116 QANTAS july 2013

museums talkabout

The River exhibition, Museum of Brisbane at City Hall

“We don’t hold massive collections,” says Denham. “For the

merchandise on show, we called out to the community.” Everything

from furry toys and stickers to ashtrays and milk cartons flooded in.

“In that way, the exhibition is a collaboration between the community

and the museum; people feel part of the story because they’ve lent

us their objects. And the models – aren’t they amazing?” Photos of

the parades’ preparation and construction show workers “repurposing

anything and everything,” says Denham. “Now, 25 years later,

we’re using absolutely new technology to re-create those objects.”

New technologies feature in several displays. Walking past a

screen in The River triggers a wash of information; press a building

in one Panoramas image to reveal more detail of the city’s parts.

“An original object has incredible resonance,” says Denham. “New

technologies let us interpret them, expand on them, get people thinking

further.” In Stephen Hart: Fellow Humans (a sculptural portraits

show opening October 18), Denham hopes visitors will be able to try

the technology Hart used to make 360-degree images of his subjects.

Exhibitions in planning include Captured: Early Brisbane

Photographers & Their Aboriginal Subjects, a show curated by

Michael Aird – whose collation of photographs of four Indigenous

elders (1860s-1890s) is a highlight of The River – and Silver (opening

November 15), a suite of collaborations between six jewellers and six

For airfares to

Brisbane call Qantas

on 13 13 13 or visit

photographers. “It is important for us to generate

new work,” says Denham of these commissions.

“We want to look at the past; we

want to question the future. But above everything,

we’re celebrating right now. By bringing in different artists,

we can show this incredibly creative city.”

Throughout the museum’s rooms, the muted chimes of the City

Hall clock insinuate their quarter-hour call. From the Museum’s

foyer, a hand-wound lift transports visitors up the tower, past the four

delicately opaque clock faces and their simple mechanisms (“they

look like sewing machines,” Denham says), to a viewing platform.

Encased by floor-to-ceiling glass, it feels like a secret airborne space,

offering unexpected perspectives of Brisbane’s rooftops, the tops of

its trees, that calligraphic river and the lush green hills beyond.

Higher again is the tower’s distinctive peak. As City Hall headed

towards its 1930 opening, the plans for a statue of an angel at its

pinnacle fell prey to budget cuts. One Mr Johnson – who’d crafted

the beautiful copper dome – was given a couple of pounds and told

to make something instead. He sourced an old kettle from an

abattoir, the ball of a toilet cistern, the knob of a bedhead – and laced

them together. Atop the tower, his delicate creation still marks the

top of this city as the clock marks out Brisbane’s days. c

photography: atmosphere photography

118 QANTAS july 2013

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