Public art has been integral to UNSW since its inception. From its earliest days the University has engaged leading contemporary artists to work closely with architects on building projects and placed sculptures in its grounds.
In 1955 the first building to be opened on the Kensington campus included a major art commission. At over fourteen metres high, Tom Bass’s relief sculpture The Falconer at the entrance to the Old Main building was a public symbol of the values and aspirations of the fledgling university.
As the university grew, art was commissioned for more buildings: Douglas Annand’s abstract mosaic murals for the Dalton building (1958) complement its functionalist, modernist architecture; Herbert Flugelman’s large figurative sculpture was sited in the courtyard of the award-winning Phillip Goldstein Hall (1964), and Mona Hessing created a monumental weaving for the foyer of the Sir John Clancy Auditorium (1971).
All of these projects embodied the university’s commitment to integrate the latest contemporary art with the best of modern architecture on the Kensington campus.
The next phase of public art at UNSW came in 1992 as a result of the Campus Development Strategy which recommended the placement of sculpture in the University’s grounds. With the assistance of the U-Committee, philanthropic funds were raised to purchase five new works, followed by two site-specific commissions, awarded to Bronwyn Oliver in 2001 and Kate Cullity in 2006.
The ongoing care and management of the University’s public art is shared by Estate Management and the Art Unit. In 2019 a joint program to revitalise campus art began with the restoration of Douglas Annand’s Dalton building stairwell mosaics. While some sculptures have been relocated as the campus continues to be developed, the recent refurbishment of Clancy Auditorium has re-established Mona Hessing’s tapestry as the centrepiece of the foyer.
The University founders’ belief in the importance of public art to provide students and staff with everyday encounters with art and culture continues to inform the UNSW campus development with the establishment of a Public Art Advisory Committee in 2018.
Senior Curator of Art, UNSW Art Collection