Gallery director Sandra McMahon proves influential

TAMWORTH Regional Art Gallery director Sandra McMahon has made the Australian art world sit up and take notice after being named one of its most influential figures for 2014.

Mrs McMahon has been named as one of the 50 most powerful and influential players in the nation’s art scene by well-read blog The Art Life.

She’s new to the list, coming in at number 48, the entry including high praise for leading a gallery enjoying “significant local support with a strong roster of exhibitions and an impressive permanent collection used for teaching, education and community outreach”.

“While all those things are worthy and notable, what gives Sandra McMahon’s tenure as gallery director a much broader reach and influence is the Tamworth Textile Triennial,” the entry goes on to say.

“Promising a strong selection of artists working across a variety of forms, the TTT will be immensely popular with punters as it tours the country.”

Mrs McMahon, who previously headed up the Western Plains Cultural Centre in Dubbo, said the honour was a “complete surprise”, but emphasised any recognition of that sort was a team effort.

“It was completely out of the blue and while it’s a lovely recognition, it’s recognition mainly due to the fact it’s a great gallery and everyone is working so hard to achieve that,” she said. 

For anyone with any knowledge of the Australian art scene, the Tamworth Textile Triennial is an event worth following.

It’s unique in Australia, the only exhibition showcasing what’s happening with the nation’s textile artists.

It’s on again this year, after moving to a triennial event in 2010, with Mrs McMahon and her team working hard to bring it all together for its August opening, including culling 120 nominations from Australian artists back to just 22.

Such is its popularity that once it finishes its eight-week exhibition period in Tamworth, it travels around Australia for the next two years. Alongside the staging of the triennial, the gallery has the largest contemporary Australian textile collection, its national significance recently attracting some intriguing offers.

Mrs McMahon said the gallery was considering two big donations, one a collection of rugs from a prominent Australian textile artist and the other a large tapestry from Melbourne.

Collectively they are worth in excess of $500,000.

It’s a long way from the humble beginnings of the textile exhibition and collection, initiated by some Tamworth arts and crafts enthusiasts in the 1970s.

Generating cultural tourism

AN EXHIBITION of the Archibald Prize entrants will kick off a packed schedule of events for the Tamworth Regional Gallery this year.

The Archibalds will be in town from February 1 and will be opened by the new director of the Gallery of NSW, Michael Brand.

Sandra McMahon said it was something of a coup to have Mr Brand visiting Tamworth as he hadn’t had much of an opportunity yet to get out into the regions.

An exhibition from the National Portrait Gallery will follow, and then a 30-year survey show for internationally recognised Walcha-based sculptor Stephen King, who recently took out Sydney’s Sculpture By The Sea.

There’ll be numerous exhibitions from Tamworth artists, including Sybil Orr, Andrea Bruno and Marie Larkin and even a taste of the non-traditional with a showing of “steampunk” works that involve looking at old technology in new ways.

Mrs McMahon said the cultural tourism the gallery generated was underestimated, with many of this year’s shows – the triennial and the Stephen King survey in particular – drawing many people from outside the region.

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