by Alex Vitlin
Following an 18-month, $53 million redevelopment project, the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia relaunched in late March. The addition of "Australia" at the end of its title is appropriate: the MCA is no longer merely great art sequestered in a hokey building in Sydney, it's a modern museum on one of the most coveted pieces of real estate in the world.
In addition to the refurbishment of the original building (the Art Deco former Maritime Services Board building on Circular Quay), architect Sam Mitchell and the NSW Government Architects's Office designed a new 4,500-square-meter wing. This five-story "Mordant" wing juxtaposes rigid, chiaroscuro architecture against the softer feel of the original sandstone building. Inside, it houses a 5.8m-high gallery, a library and a Digital Learning Centre, which will allow virtual access to the museum for every school in Australia. For many, the real draw will be the rooftop sculpture terrace (with a custom work by Hany Armanious) and its attendant cafe: there aren't so many places that allow you to see the Bridge and the Opera House by barely turning your head.
The original building displays the MCA permanent collection. These pieces are acquired no more than 10 years after their creation, and currently include names like Ricky Swallow, Charlie Sofo, Simryn Gill, Tracey Moffatt and Shaun Gladwell. Robert Owen's "Sunrise #3" adorns an entire wall directly opposite the museum's collection of contemporary bark painting. The entrance hall and floors now embrace the harbor views, and provide a logical route through the collection, which couldn't be said of the Museum's previous incarnation.
The timing of the relaunch is auspicious: the museum was founded 21 years ago and, coincidentally or not, the feature exhibitions it has chosen to relaunch with both explore the concept of time.
Running through 3 June 2012, "Marking Time" comprises 11 artists working in an array of media with the common notion of time as journey. Jim Campbell has three works in the exhibition, but perhaps most moving is the installation "Last Day in the Beginning of March", an attempt to recreate the final 24 hours of his brother's life through visceral mimicries of light, heartbeat and rainfall.
Edgar Arceneaux draws straight onto the gallery walls in his "Drawings of a Removal", dynamic and impermanent pieces that recall a trip he took with his father, rendered by the artist during the first week of the exhibition.
"Continent-Cloud", by Rivane Neuenschwander, is an illuminated ceiling on which beans are pushed around by intermittently placed fans, and the roof of the gallery morphs into moving landmasses or shapes. Here, time is not only a human experience.
Across the entrance hall, Christian Marclay's "The Clock" gets its own dedicated space as a cinema, replete with couches. Showing for the first time in the southern hemisphere, this ambitious, engaging work provides a moment for every minute of the 24-hour day. Scenes from movies have been spliced to reference every minute of the day, at exactly that minute, and every Thursday until June 2012, The Clock will be open 24 hours per day. It's an art project that uses film; it's also a film acting as art. Either way, it possesses a curious narrative drive in which nothing is guaranteed, yet remains completely enthralling—probably a good metaphor for the redesigned MCA itself. "The Clock" is also on display through 3 June 2012.
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
140 George Street, Sydney
NSW 2000, Australia