Art and Memorabilia Collection Internship
The USU has an extesive and valuable collection of fine art that has been acquired over the past century through purchase, bequest and commissioning. The Union employs two student interns to assist in the management of the collection.
The 2012 Art Interns are Anna McMahon and Bart Oswald. They can be contacted at
One of the USU’s best kept secrets is its considerable art collection. The collection has been growing through donation and acquisition for almost 130 years and totals nearly 700 works. The USU collection is the most extensive of any student organisation in the world and consists of paintings, sculpture, silverware, photography, mixed media, works on paper and murals.
The collection includes a broad cross-section of Australian artists including works by Arthur Boyd, Donald Friend, Arthur Streeton, John Coburn, Judy Cassab, Bill Henson, Emily Kngwarreye, Norman Lindsay, Lloyd Rees, Michael Riley, Robert Campbell Jnr, Immants Tillers, Lucy Culliton, Del Kathryn Barton and John Murwundjul. The spirit of the collection reflects the spirit of the USU; supporting and promoting Australian artistic talent, particularly emerging talent. The works by Aboriginal, Australian, social and political artists have remained an important focus of the acquisitions policy.Major pieces from the collection can be seen in and around the USU buildings on main campus – Wentworth, Manning House and Holme. The collection is recognised as the Union’s most valuable capital asset and is currently curated, promoted and managed by students and recent graduates.
Since the beginning of 2008 the USU collection has been managed by the staff of the University’s Museums Department. Under the mentorship for the University’s Senior Curator, Dr Ann Stephen, 2 USU members are responsible for the management of the collection – its cataloguing, maintenance and distribution. This is a once in a lifetime training and development opportunity for young artists and arts administrators.
Possibly the most potent and enduring display of the USU’s Art Collection is the work by Italian born Virgil Lo Schiavo on the walls of The Refectory in the Holme Building. The murals were painted in three stages, in 1944, 1952 and 1971, as a donation by the artist. Titled A Tribute to Shakespeare, A Tribute to Dickens and Mankind the murals detail an extraordinary figurative montage of literary, historical and mythological characters. King Lear, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet; Bill Sykes, Nicholas Nickleby and David Copperfield; people uprooted by famine, astronauts, workers with drills, and from the corner, watching it and us, the artist himself dressed as Pierrot.
One of the most contentious acquisitions was made in 1939 at the Herald Exhibition of British and French Contemporary Art. At a time when the priority of purchasing art paled in comparison to the pervading sentiments on the eve of WWII, the USU decided to bid on a work by Maurice de Vlaminck, titled After the Storm (1939). Vlaminck was a principal member of the French fauvist movement and the darkish landscape was purchased by the USU’s President and Vice-President. Perhaps it was a last hurrah; perhaps an aesthetic stand against the inexorable destruction that was to come. Either way it was an astute investment of £93: today the work is valued at in excess of $250 000.
Collecting is a vital part of the USU’s support for young and emerging Australian artistic talent who show promise of development and future success.
In 2007 USU acquired a large scale sculptural piece titled Itinerary/Itinerant by young Australian artist Louisa Dawson. At 26 years of age Louisa has achieved countless artistic milestones in sculpture. She has widely in Australia and overseas and has been the recipient of a number of Australia Council for the Arts grants and sculptural awards. Louisa’s interest in the familiar and the unusual resonates throughout all her works. Itinerary/Itinerant, comprised of vintage suitcases that the artist had either found or inherited, is 4.5 metre tall spiral staircase that is currently suspended through two floors of Manning House. The title refers to the dual nature of travelling; those who have a purpose to their journey and those who are unsettled and constantly on the move looking for work. Sounds like some students we know...
USU’s 2007 art acquisition: Itinerary/Itinerant by Louisa Dawson (2004)
Found objects (suitcases), dimensions variable.
Shown here at the 2004 Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award, Werribee Park, Victoria - where the sculpture won the Peoples Choice Award.
Itinerary/Itinerant is now hanging in Manning House, suspended from the ceiling of level one.
University Art Gallery
University of Sydney
(02) 9351 6883