Hannah Mathews

Hannah Mathews, Senior Curator, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne, Australia.

Titled The 21st Century Art Museum: Is Context Everything? the CIMAM 2019 Annual Conference took place 15-17 November in Sydney hosted by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.

Day 2: Saturday 16 November
The Future of Collections


Performativity: Knowing your context

With so much recent interest focused on performativity in contemporary art, it is useful to pause and consider the performative nature of our art collections and the ways in which they can be responsive, resonant and regenerative.

The Monash University Collection was inaugurated in 1961 with the foundation of the university. From the beginning, art and culture were considered integral to university life. With the establishment of an annual acquisition fund for the purchase of artworks by living Australian artists, the aim of the collection was to support culture, embellish university buildings and environments, and inspire and engage students and staff through contemporary art. Built over five decades of scholarship, the collection demonstrates the evolution of art and knowledge production in Australia, and extends from key themes that have concerned Australian artists across half a century, including feminism, identity, politics, the environment, technology and war.

In 2019, the Monash University Collection – managed by Monash University Museum of Art – consists of over 2500 items, with close to 50% of these on display across our five campuses and through loans to other institutions. At MUMA the collection plays many roles and we are committed to keeping it active, visible and valued by installing curated selections of artworks within libraries and faculties, commissioning major public artworks in tandem with new building projects, guiding university departments in the acquisition of artworks into the collection, and using the collection as a study tool for students and staff. In addition, through our work at the museum we prioritise diversifying and deepening research and publishing on the collection and embedding First Nation knowledges into our work. In an increasingly digitally mediated era, we are committed to increasing the opportunities people have to engage with material forms of art and the embodied experiences these offer.

While most of our collection acquisitions are made at the time of the artworks’ making, we have acquired only a few performance-based works to date, and most of these have been instructional in nature. In Australia, only 2-3 institutions have made major acquisitions in the performance field (the MCA being one of them). Internationally it is a collection area in an embryonic state being keenly observed from Australia and led by institutions such as the Tate and Walker Art Museum. Several institutions in Australia also play key roles in the collection of artist and institutional archives and ephemera. These histories and materials are crucial to the record and future revisions of Australia’s artistic narratives. They are resources I have drawn on in my own curatorial work and writing projects.

But at Monash we are a young, relatively small-scaled collection with a specific focus on living Australian artists. We are more conscious of generating than authorising. Our work is purposefully proximate to the practices of the artists we work with and represent. Our audiences are staff and students, locals to the area and a dedicated art audience that visits from across the river and across the globe. The Monash University Collection is a working collection. It embraces its scale and scope to stay nimble, it responds to the multi-disciplinary nature of its setting by representing different kinds of knowledges and ways of knowing, and it steps forward to welcome rigour, emerging thinking and challenging ideas. In this way the Monash University Collection stays on its toes and in conversation with art, experimentation, teaching and learning. In knowing our context, we can seek to both nurture and challenge it as the times demand.


Hannah Mathews is a Melbourne-based curator with a particular interest in contemporary art and performance. She is currently Senior Curator at Monash University. Mathews graduated with a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne in 2002 and has worked in curatorial positions at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne (2008-16); Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (2005-07); Monash University Museum of Art (2005); Next Wave Festival (2003-04); The South Project (2003-04); and the Biennale of Sydney (2000-02).

Mathews' key curatorial projects include Shapes of Knowledge, MUMA (2019): Alicia Frankovich & Lili Reynaud Dewar, MUMA (2018); The humours, MUMA (2017); Ulla von Brandenburg: It has a Golden Yellow Sun and an Elderly Grey Moon, ACCA (2016); Derek Kreckler: Accident & Process, PICA, Perth and national tour (2015-ongoing); Ryan Gander: READ ONLY, ACCA, Melbourne (2015); Framed Movements, ACCA (2014); In the Cut: Contemporary Collage, ACCA (2013); Power to the People: Contemporary Conceptualism and the Object in Art, ACCA (2011); NEW11, ACCA (2011); Johanna Billing: Tiny Movements, ACCA (2009); Primavera, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2008); and Old skool (never lose that feeling), PICA (2007).

Mathews has completed curatorial residencies in New York, Berlin, Tokyo and Venice, and has taught in curatorial programs at Melbourne University, Monash University and RMIT University, Melbourne. She sits on the boards of the National Association for the Visual Arts, City of Melbourne Arts & Culture and International Art Space, Perth.