The High Court's art collection, including High Court Historic Memorials Collection
The High Court's art collection was under development even before construction began on the Court building in 1975. A meeting in 1974 at the offices of EMTB noted that the High Court should contain works representative of the cultural development of the nation, and expressive of the Court’s functions. Architect Col Madigan was a senior partner in EMTB and a member of the Council of the National Gallery, and he suggested that the then Director of the National Gallery, James Mollison and Col Madigan should meet with the Chief Justice, Sir Garfield Barwick, to progress planning for the acquisition of artworks.
The Chief Justice, a subcommittee of the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council, officers of the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC), and EMTB staff met intermittently in the following years to discuss the development of the Court's art collection. The NCDC drew on advice from its internal Artworks Committee and the Australia Council for the Arts which had replaced the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board in 1972. The NCDC had been established in 1958 to plan develop and construct Canberra as the national capital, and it saw artwork acquisition as integral to its building and development programmes.
In 1976 the NCDC advised Chief Justice Barwick that as the Court would be one of the most significant buildings in Canberra, attracting large numbers of visitors, its artwork collection should reflect the traditions, symbolism and practice of the law, and that the building lent itself to having works of art embodied in its intrinsic elements, such as its doors. A short list of artists was agreed upon who were to be invited to submit proposals for artworks to be commissioned for the Court. A brief in 1977 to those artists said:"The High Court will be a powerful and dominating structure, and must be considered one of the most important buildings in Canberra from all points of view. It is equally important that the art works which contribute towards the visual realisation of what this building means to the people of Australia, should also be of the highest calibre."
As intended, many of the artworks in the High Court’s collection represent aspects of the economic, social and cultural development of the nation. Some engage with the history, workings and aspirations of the Court.
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