Gael Newton AM
Gael Newton BFA is an independent Curatorial Consultant/Researcher across several fields of interest, including photography, arts and the humanities. She is an internationally recognised Australian art historian and curator specializing in surveys and studies of photography across the Asia-Pacific region. Newton was formerly the Senior Curator of Australian and International Photography at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in Canberra.
During her last decade with the National Gallery of Australia, Newton was responsible for the establishment of a survey collection of Asia-Pacific photography spanning from South Asia to the west coast of the Americas. Within this collection, Newton located and negotiated for several major private collections of Asia-Pacific photography including one of 4000 colonial-era Indonesian photographs.
Current activities include: On-going research and papers on Australian and SouthEast Asian photography; several curatorial projects; advising clients and galleries/archives/libraries on philanthropic initiatives and on the placement of artists/photographers' collections and archives; valuing photographic works as gifts and providing assistance with auctions and sales; and research within the collections of national institutions in Canberra (eg NGA and NLA) on behalf of clients located interstate or internationally.
Gael Newton is approved to value Australian and international photography and video for the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program.
Gael Newton is an internationally recognised art curator of photography and a photo-historian who has consistently been at the forefront of Australian photographic history and the recognition of photography as an artform across Southeast Asia.
Over a period of forty years, Newton has been a leader in Australian art museums as a pioneer who made accessible our story of Australian photography as art and the wider story of the photography in our region for Australian and international audiences. She is a leading photographic curator with an extensive international and national reputation in the visual arts as a curator, researcher, historian, writer, educator, mentor and as a major contributor to Australian visual arts culture with outstanding specialist expertise in Australian and Southeast Asian photography.
Her career to date encompasses three key stages:
- The first being a pioneer position as the inaugural photography curator with the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW);
- The second In international and national photography with the National Gallery of Australia (NGA);
- The third being her present activities as an independent curator, researcher, writer and advisor on photography with significant expertise in and commitment to Southeast Asian photography.
CAREER & CONTRIBUTIONS
Art Gallery of NSW
1974 - 1985 Gael Newton was the inaugural curator of photography at the AGNSW where she established the foundations for one of the country’s most important art collections of Australian photography.
As part of her early curatorial career, she has authored a number of major and pioneering surveys of Australian photography, commencing with Australian pictorial photography: a survey of art photography from 1898 to 1938 (AGNSW 1979).
This was followed by the equally important Silver and Grey: fifty years of Australian photography 1900 -1950 (Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1980), the first critical account of pictorialist photography in Australia.
Among the many important monographic exhibitions and publications Newton has prepared, the most significant is her major account of the photography of Max Dupain AC (Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1980), which cemented Dupain’s reputation as one of Australia’s most important photographers.
National Gallery of Australia: 1985 - 2014
From 1985-89 Newton was Visiting Curator for the Bicentennial at the NGA, during which time she researched and mounted the first comprehensive account of the history of photography in Australia, the watershed exhibition: Shades of light: photography and Australia 1839-1988. The major, scholarly publication associated with this exhibition, published in 1988, remains a standard reference work on the history of Australian photography.
In the early 1990s, using the KODAK Australasia Pty Ltd Fund for emerging photographers, she began a special focus collection of contemporary Indigenous photographers for the National Gallery of Australia permanent collection, recognising the significance of the emergence of Indigenous urban photographers in the mid-to-late 1980s.
Soon after she moved to the position of Curator of Australian and International photography where she managed and developed the large NGA photography collection. During her years in this senior role Newton organised a vast array of publications and exhibitions that have since become a critical basis for many subsequent historical accounts of Australian photography.
Among her many NGA photography exhibitions was a significant number whereby Newton had researched and mounted surveys of national and international artists-photographers that had not previously received the appropriate attention by institutions and their audiences. Included among these was the first art museum exhibition of Indigenous contemporary photography. Newton has also been active in creating international awareness of the history of photography in Australia.
As well as her substantial contribution to the development of historical accounts of Australian photography, she has also been responsible for assisting in the development of the careers of many living artists through publications and acquisitions. Among the most notable of these is the internationally recognised artist Tracey Moffatt, whom Newton identified early on as an artist of great significance and supported by acquisition into the national collection and with articles on her work that increased the understanding of Moffat’s work. Moffat was the artist representing Australia at the 2017 Venice Biennial.
Newton has had a long-standing interest in the early photography of the Asia-Pacific region, and she has over the last decade been a pioneer in research in this field. The exhibition, Picture paradise: Asia-Pacific photography 1840s-1940s at the NGA in Canberra in 2008 was developed over three years alongside the building of the Gallery’s dedicated collection of photographic art from the region.
From a base of some hundred Asian works in 2005, with even fewer being by Asian-born photographers, the NGA’s Asian-Pacific collection had grown to more than 10,000 by 2008. This groundbreaking survey was the first to comprehensively account for the emergence of art photography in our broader Asian-Pacific region. Picture paradise was followed in 2014 by Garden of the East: Photography in Indonesia 1850s – 1940s.
The culmination of several years of research and interaction with Australian and Indonesian scholars, this exhibition established the NGA as an important centre for Indonesian photography.
The two exhibitions, together with their accompanying monographs, introduced Australian audiences to the rich photographic cultures in our region. Other museums in the world have subsequently organised similar exhibitions but Newton’s at the NGA was a pioneer.
Independent Curator/ Consultant - 2014 to present
Newton left the NGA after 29 years in September 2014 to pursue Asia-Pacific photography research projects. She now continues her independent consultant and researcher career working with individuals and institutions on Australian photography and providing curatorial advice and policy directions on South East Asian photography to private collectors and collections, commercial galleries, several Singaporean museum projects – in particular working with the National Gallery Singapore (NGS), the Asian Civilizations Museum (ACM) and the Peranakan Museum.
She continues her promotions of and research on photography history through a range of international magazines and publishers. Her most recent articles were published by the ACM in their August 2016 catalogue Port Cities and the NGS’s March 2017 publication: Charting Thoughts: Essays on Art in Southeast Asia.
Newton’s present career as an independent consultant includes a range of activities, for example: On-going research and papers on Australian and Southeast Asian photography; several curatorial projects; advising clients and galleries/ archives/ libraries on philanthropic initiatives and on the placement of artists/photographers' collections and archives; valuing photographic works as gifts and providing assistance with auctions and sales; research within the collections of national and other institutions in Canberra (eg National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, National Maritime Museum and National Library, Queensland University Gallery, Bathurst Gallery, Bendigo Gallery) on behalf of clients located interstate or internationally; providing curatorial advice, research and policy directions on Southeast Asian photography to Australian and international collectors, dealers and collections and has completed several papers and essays for Singaporean museum projects.
In addition to particular projects on the work of pioneer British travel photographer John Thomson in Southeast Asia, Newton continues research on forgotten Asia-Pacific salon and commercial and modernist art and magazine photographers 1900s-1960s including the regional history of colour photography. Newton has been called on to provide talks based on her expertise in museum education, internship programs and volunteer management and her strong experience with paper and photographic art conservation practice.
Newton is an approved by the Commonwealth Government to value Australian and international photography and video for the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program. She is a board member for the online peer reviewed photo history and criticism publication TAP Trans Asia Photography, is active in The Asian Art Society of Australia, contributing articles and lectures to the TAASA journal, and is on the collections advisory committee for the Monash Gallery of Art.
Newton’s most recent initiatives have benefitted from her very extensive contacts and network of national and international experts in public museums, commercial firms as well as private collectors. She is regularly called upon to provide formal and informal expert advice to members of this worldwide network.
During her tenure at the NGA, Newton mentored many foreign and Australian colleagues and students in the discipline of art museum studies with particular reference to photography. She has had an on-going positive and constructive role in the development of many careers across related fields in public art museums as well as in commercial employment (auction houses and commercial galleries).
Commitment to public collections
Newton has been a donor to Australian art museums and regional galleries. Throughout her career, she has provided colleagues across the country with advice and support, and continues to help others to place important photographs with various public collections. She continues to make links between artists, collectors and estates to ensure that significant artworks are housed with public art galleries to ensure future access by researchers and the general public.
Member of the Order of Australia (AM)
On Monday 11 June 2018 Gael Newton was awarded an Australian Honour as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).
The citation reads: “For significant service to the visual arts as photography curator, and as an author and researcher, particularly of Southeast Asian photography.”
Gael Newton lives in Canberra, Australia.
Click here for A Selection of Essays and Articles
Gael has a blog - that includes special articles about Parting With Your Art - click here
Click here - to contact Gael about advice, valuations, collaborations on a range of Australian and/or international projects involving collections, research, writing and/ or publication projects