Mollison said the abrogating publicity about his acquirement of Blue Poles “did accept an aftereffect on me personally. It fabricated me a accessible person” and triggered account such as “the man with the aureate wallet” and “big spender”.
In one of his few columnist interviews in the 1970s, he said the altercation over Blue Poles was so acid it was difficult for him to work. In the alpha he accustomed abhorrence belletrist and alike afterlife threats. However, “when the abuse was aerial we got a cardinal of belletrist acknowledging us”. He afterwards told columnist Linda van Nunen that he believed the acerbic attacks were politically motivated rather than an allegation of the painting’s aesthetic merit.
The National Arcade of Australia’s founding director, James Mollison, in 1975 with Sidney Nolan’s Afterlife of Sergeant Kennedy at Stringybark Creek, one of Nolan’s Ned Kelly paintings. Credit:Archive
Throughout his aboriginal years as acting administrator of NGA, his 12 years as administrator and bristles years as the administrator of the National Arcade of Victoria, Mollison maintained his privacy, was bent to abstain the role of a baroque superstar administrator – “I don’t see myself as that” – and focused absolutely on his plan “to brainwash the Australian accessible about art in a austere way”.
When he began his appellation at the National Arcade of Victoria, he said: “You will apparently acquisition that it’s not my attributes to balloon and enthuse and put on a show-business blessed face. I would abundant adopt to be recognised for the complete job of assignment that I leave behind.” And so he was.
His adulation of art began early. Born on March 20, 1931 in the bank boondocks of Wonthaggi in Victoria, he was an alone adolescent who grew up with his mother, Margaret Bell (Peg) nee Robson. His father, a miner, additionally alleged James Mollison, was on alive account in the Second Apple War for abundant of Mollison’s adolescence and was a captive of war until he alternate home in 1945.
On Christmas holidays he backward at his grandparents’ place, area he admired to flick through the newspapers and magazines, acid out accessories on art and pasting them into a ample scrapbook.
From the age of eight he admired to arrangement the National Arcade of Victoria’s bookshop to buy account cards, application abridged money from his mother to biking to the gallery.
In 1948, anon afterwards he larboard Northcote High School, Mollison saw that the Trustees of the National Arcade of Victoria were alms one or two positions for interns who could alternation as curators.
He afterwards recounted: “I went to see Daryl Lindsay, the director, to ask whether I could accept one of these positions. My account with Daryl went able-bodied (though the positions for interns never eventuated). He said a affable goodbye to me and added: ‘Come and see me again’.”
Mollison took that to beggarly the afterward week. This time Lindsay alien him to Dr Ursula Hoff, again the Keeper of Prints, who in about-face took him to the book allowance with a box of Rembrandt etchings. She told him to alarm her aback he was accomplished but he was too shy to say he had finished. That’s aback he abstruse his aboriginal absolute assignment about art: “It is added agreeable if you attending at it adamantine and long, than if you attending at it idly or in passing.”
Mollison accomplished as an art abecedary at Melbourne Teachers’ College, accomplished art at Melbourne High School, became an apprenticeship administrator at the NGV, again confused to Ballarat area he was administrator of the Ballarat Art Gallery. In 1969 he was appointed exhibitions administrator for the Prime Minister’s Department in Canberra.
When Mollison became the acting administrator of the National Arcade of Australia, the capital plan was to body up a accumulating of Australian works, but that changed.
Among the abundant journalists who went to Mollison’s arrangement in Fyshwick to account him, added than one apparent his altered ambition – to advance the arcade into a great, apple chic museum. In 1976, aback women’s magazines appear added about art than aristocratic scandals and celebrities, he told a anchorman from Woman’s Day: “Great works artlessly breach me apart. I appetite to allotment that amusement with anybody in Australia.”
While abounding accustomed Mollison had brought art to the public’s apprehension added than anyone abroad in the field, others were harsh. Journalists complained that Mollison banned to acknowledgment claimed questions, had a aciculate tongue, was calmly bored, didn’t ache fools acquiescently and had an “abrasive” claimed style, admitting he could be “quite affable and charming”, as he was aback anecdotic his own affection for art.
“Art”, he already said, “absorbs me totally. My job goes on sometimes until 1am or 3. Aback I can’t sleep, my one alleviation is to apprehend Jane Austen. Because I am so captivated in my job, I’ve developed acclimated to alive up during the night and cerebration about problems that accept appear up during the day. Michelangelo is my favourite sculptor and my favourite painter is Titian. My affection stops every time I see a Titian.”
Mollison alike gave a quick description of his Canberra apartment, with its assets from John Olsen and Robert Klippel and two etchings by Picasso afraid aloft his kitchen sink.
Director of the Australian National Arcade James Mollison (left) and above prime abbot Gough Whitlam angle in advanced of Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles in 1986.
In 1985 Mollison’s arrangement was continued for bristles years. Before that addendum ended, he was told his abutting reappointment would be for aloof two years. In May 1989 he told the gallery’s board he capital to leave.
When he left, The Sydney Morning Herald alleged him “a behemothic amid Australian arcade admiral and a actual adamantine act to follow”.
Returning to Melbourne, Mollison was appointed the administrator of the National Arcade of Victoria. His exhibition affairs included blockbuster shows that were designed, he said, to abduction the accessible imagination. He appointed Virginia Lovett as a accessible relations administrator and declared his acclamation as simple: get bodies aback in the gallery, booty affliction of the gallery’s assorted collections and appear to basal housekeeping.
Lovett remembers those times at the NGV as dynamic, agitative and with a new energy. “He set his own rules and accurate the abutting generation.”
In September 1994, Mollison chose the gallery’s media barrage of Renoir – Master Impressionist to advertise his retirement, able from March 1995.
At 64 years old, he said: “It aloof seemed abundant is enough.”
In 2002, aback the National Arcade of Australia acclaimed 20 years back its official opening, Mollison was asked to reflect on his time as the director.
He was bashful about “the Jackson Pollock” and airy about the Queen’s arrangement to Canberra 20 years beforehand to accessible a accumulating that was abundantly his creation.
If it was accepted of him at banquet parties, he would reel off “the aforementioned half-dozen stories”, including a mini-lecture on Aboriginal art that could amplitude to 40 account “if the bearings is absolutely desperate”.
His faculty of humour and agreeableness remained throughout his life.
Mollison died of a affection advance on January 19, 2020 at the age of 88 at the Melbourne home he aggregate with his partner, Vincent Langford. They were calm for 50 years.
Memorials will be captivated at both the National Arcade of Australia and the National Arcade of Victoria.
James Mollison is survived by Vincent Langford and several cousins from both abandon of Mollison’s family.
James Mollison 1931-2020
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