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ART GALLERY OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA COMPLEX (MAIN GALLERY BUILDING)

The Art Gallery of Western Australia consists of several buildings built at different periods and some originally for other purposes.  There is the Main Gallery Building (1979), the Centenary Gallery (built as the Perth Court of Petty Sessions in 1905), the Administration Building (built as the Police Barracks in 1897) as well as a paved concourse area containing Gerhard Mack’s sculpture Der Rufer and a water feature creating a mini wetland and with its amphitheatre form making it an ideal performance and outdoor activity space for the Art Gallery and the cultural precinct generally.  

The first Art Gallery had been set up in the former chapel of the old Perth Gaol, with the rest of the old gaol building – which is still located just behind the Museum, – used by the museum.  As the State’s collections expanded, as did its wealth derived from the gold boom of the late 19th early 20th century, a proper State Museum and Library was built and opened in 1897, called the Jubilee Building.  By 1900, a new purpose-built Art Gallery was also being planned next to the Museum, with the laying of the foundation stone coinciding with a visit by the Duke of Cornwall and York (later King George V) in 1901.  However it would be some years before the Art Gallery was built, the delay mainly owing to the death of the then Premier George Leake who was a great champion for the gallery.  The building, designed by Public Works Department (PWD) Chief Architect John Grainger, was finally completed and opened in June 1908 and signified the consolidation of Perth’s cultural precinct.   

Construction on the new modern Art Gallery at the southern end of the precinct was completed in 1979 and the original Art Gallery on Beaufort Street was then taken over by the Museum. The Art Gallery also acquired some former Police buildings as the Police relocated to its new headquarters in East Perth from the 1970s onwards.  In 1976, the former Police Barracks (across from the Jubilee Building) was refurbished and adapted for the Art Gallery administration staff.  In 1995, the old Police Courts were integrated into the Art Gallery building and called the Centenary Gallery. 

Detailed Description

The Art Gallery of Western Australia consists of several buildings built at different periods and some originally for other purposes.  There is the Main Gallery Building (1979), the Centenary Gallery (1905), the Administration Building (1897) as well as a paved concourse area containing Gerhard Mack’s sculpture Der Rufer and a water feature creating a mini wetland and with its amphitheatre form making it an ideal performance and outdoor activity space for the Art Gallery and the cultural precinct generally.  

The first purpose built Art Gallery for WA was built in 1908 and located on Beaufort Street, adjoining the original WA Museum Building which had been constructed in 1897.  Before this an Art Gallery had been set up in the former chapel of the old Perth Gaol, which is still located just behind the Museum.  However, the establishment of an Art Gallery dates back to the 1880s, when plans first emerged for a purpose-built museum, library and art gallery to house the State’s growing collection of cultural material, replacing the temporary facilities that had been set up around the city.  Originally the building was proposed to be located on St Georges Terrace with its opening to coincide with Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887.  However, only the foundation stone was laid in time for the Golden Jubilee and the building plans were put on hold for some years.  A library, called the “Victoria Public Library”, was temporarily installed in an old WA Bank building, and the museum (originally housed in the Mechanic’s Institute) was moved in 1892 into the old Perth Gaol on James Street, and then by 1895, the first Perth Art Gallery was also set up in the old Gaol in the former chapel.   

As the State’s collections expanded, as did its wealth derived from the gold boom of the late 19th early 20th century, a proper State Museum and Library was built and opened in 1897, called the Jubilee Building.  By 1900, a new Art Gallery was also being planned next to the Museum, with the laying of the foundation stone coinciding with a visit to Western Australia by the Duke of Cornwall and York (being George V who became Prince of Wales and later King of the United Kingdom) to commemorate Her Late Majesty, Queen Victoria, and the Federation of Australia in 1901.  The building was designed by Public Works Department (PWD) Chief Architect, John Grainger (father of composer Percy Grainger).  However it would be some years before the Art Gallery was built, the delay mainly owing to the death of the then Premier George Leake who was a great champion for the gallery.  It was finally completed and opened in June 1908, under the supervision of Grainger’s successor, architect Hillson Beasley, and signified the consolidation of Perth’s cultural precinct.  The Art Gallery, facing toward Beaufort Street, was designed in the Federation Romanesque style to harmonise with and link to the Jubilee Building and also the Government Geologists building (opened in 1903 and located just to the north of the Art Gallery).  The Art Gallery employed what were then the most contemporary approaches with a sculpture gallery on the ground floor and a painting gallery – which became the Hellenic Gallery (later renamed the Katta Djinoong gallery) – on the first floor top lit by a clerestory window and a Parthenon frieze making it a space of high artistic merit.  

From the 1950s, many significant changes to the cultural precinct started to occur.  This was initiated by several main events, including the separation in 1955 of library services from the museum and art gallery, the start of the second major mining boom in WA (this time nickel) in the 1960s, as well as the upcoming 150th anniversary of the British settlement of WA in 1979 which in turn created a rising interest in Western Australia’s history and heritage and also its cultural institutions.  The other factor in the changes to the cultural precinct and to the Art Gallery specifically, was the relocation in the mid-1970s of all the WA Police operations, which had up to now co-habited the precinct, to its new Police Headquarters and facilities in East Perth.   

In 1972, the Museum expanded with the construction of a new multi-storey museum building on Francis Street (now demolished).  In 1976, the former Police Barracks (across from the Jubilee Building) was refurbished and adapted for the Art Gallery administration staff including offices, laboratories, educational facilities, theatrette and boardrooms.   

Construction started on the new modern Art Gallery at the southern end of the precinct in 1977 and was completed and opened in 1979.  The original Art Gallery on Beaufort Street was then taken over by the Museum.  The architect of the new five storey Art Gallery Building was Charles Sierakowski from the PWD, who worked with engineer Philip Nadebaum and architectural company, Summerhayes and Associates.  It was designed in the Bauhaus method with a Brutalist exterior, which was popular in European design.  The building is concrete-framed clad with concrete blocks and with a space frame awning.  The slab and shear head column system was an innovative architectural feature in WA at the time.   

In 1995, the old Police Courts were integrated into the Art Gallery building and called the Centenary Gallery.  The two-storey former court building, which opened in 1905, was designed by PWD Chief Architect Hillson Beasley and is a fine example of the Federation Second Empire style highlighted by the use of Donnybrook sandstone, a fabric that was used in many of the late 19th and early 20th century buildings in the cultural precinct.  The Police continued using the building until 1982, after which it was made available to the Art Gallery for more exhibition space.  Conservation and adaptation work was carried out in stages and completed in 1995, with the old Police Courts left mostly in tact.

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