Two Saturdays ago, I visited the Art Gallery of Western Australia on a whim. The sky was clear, the sun was out, and the artwork beckoned. I don’t visit often, but each time I do, there is always something new to surprise and delight and something old to rediscover anew.
The outside of the building is quite boring and plain, but the moment you walk inside, the entire mood of the place changes (if you ignore the ongoing renovation work).
The ground floor of the gallery houses the state art collection, including the Modern art collection housing works from the 1920s to the 1960s, the mind-bending Contemporary art collection, and the ever revealing Year 12 Perspectives collection currently. But this time around, it was the Historical collection that was the surprise and the delight for me.
The entrance to the Historical collection is an unassuming staircase that is easily missed. It is located right at the back of the ground floor of the gallery, and I always missed it during my previous visits to the art gallery. But not this time.
Following it took me underground, past the back gardens and down a long hallway into a different wing of the art gallery, where a plain set of large white doors greeted me. I had to catch my breath the moment I realised what was through those doors. Concrete suddenly gave way to old hardwood floors as I transitioned from the stark modernist main building into one of brick and wood from an age long gone.
As I entered what is known as the Centenary Galleries, I was greeted with large, high-ceiling rooms with beautiful paintings and sculptures from the 19th to the early 20th century on display.
Turning around the corner from the main corridor into yet another hallway, light flooded in from both sides. A majestic stained-glass window with a lead-glass lion peered down from the right, and a beautiful set of lead-glass doors beckoned on my left, reminding all who passed that this building is as much a work of art as the paintings it houses.
This wing used to be the Perth Police Courts, and hints of its old function can be found in the building with a raised courtroom dock and judge’s bench. There is even an old holding cell in one of the little corridors. Instead of judges and criminals, rooms now displays paintings from WA’s 19th and 20th century.
Art galleries, especially ones with a varied collection are always evocative places, and this place was no different. The artwork captures a time long gone and people no longer with us, for a brief moment, I was transported back in time to WA’s early days. This feeling lingered until I walked the hallway back to the main art gallery building, where the transition in architecture brought me back to our present time. And this is probably why we call art an experience.
More information about the art gallery and its exhibitions can be found on their website www.artgallery.wa.gov.au.