The fine art of curating

The fine art of curating - 7th November 2015

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Senior contemporary art curator Max Delany says the NGV's Andy Warhol/Ai Weiwei exhibition is a personal favourite.

by Sue Green

When the National Gallery of Victoria's ground-breaking summer exhibition opens on December 11, it will be the culmination of years of behind-the-scenes work by a man gallery-goers rarely see.

Max Delany, NGV senior curator of contemporary art since November 2012, has worked with the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and influential Chinese artist Ai Weiwei? to develop Andy Warhol/Ai Weiwei. "It's one of the most exciting projects I have ever worked on," he says.

For Delany, whose job also includes looking after and developing the NGV's collection and who worked on the Australian Surrealism exhibition, Lurid Beauty, which opened on October 9, that's a big statement. Since studying visual arts, majoring in art history, at Monash University – he is now an adjunct associate professor in its Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture – the career highlights have been many.

They began when he moved to Paris after graduation, working in a commercial gallery in the Bastille area for 2½ years. Many artists had studios there and he says, "I was able to really immerse myself in contemporary international arts." Holidays were spent visiting the great European collections, he translated catalogues from French to English and, after returning to Australia, he worked with William Mora in his ground-breaking gallery. And, in case he wasn't busy enough, he undertook a masters degree at Monash, was visual arts co-ordinator for the Next Wave Festival and other industry projects. It was all part of the journey towards his present position.

"Working in a commercial gallery allowed me to work closely with artists, the wider art community – collectors, critics, journalists, people from cultural institutions – and to understand the structure of the art world," he says.

Since then Delany's name has been attached to many of Melbourne's – in fact Australia's – leading curatorial roles. Curator at Heide Museum of Modern Art from 1995 until 1999, his first institutional appointment, it built the foundations for the Andy Warhol/Ai Weiwei show, which is bringing 300 Warhol works to Australia.

"On the one hand I was working with 20th-century modern art but also with a strong focus on contemporary art, working with the collection and living artists," he says. "I have always been interested in the dialogue between contemporary art and art history."

Delany moved to Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces until 2004. He then became director of the Monash University Museum of Art, overseeing its move from the Clayton campus to its new Caulfield Museum, bringing together themes of art, architecture and audiences, he says.

The role of curator may not be well known to the public. But Delany says it is exciting, varied and offers the chance to work with artists to open their work to wider audiences.

He works with the NGV teams on everything from selection of works, including borrowing from collectors, to exhibition design, publications, public and education programs. He works with academics, historians, scholars, researchers, collectors, philanthropic patrons, the media and lenders. His job is local, but also international.

And while the queues for the summer show are about to begin, behind-the-scenes Delany and his teams have moved on: "Major exhibitions take two to three years, so we're working on 2017 and 2018."

(Fairfax Media)