TONY Ellwood has some big plans for the National Gallery of Victoria, the institution he left five years ago when he was its deputy director.
Now freshly installed as the NGV's new director following the retirement of the long-serving chief, Dr Gerard Vaughan, Mr Ellwood has some immediate changes in mind.
"I want it to be bright, fresh and welcoming as soon as you enter," Mr Ellwood said yesterday. Only 24 hours into his new job, he'd had numerous meetings, including briefing 30 of his senior staff on the importance of customer service.
Mr Ellwood, 44, comes from a stint as director of the Queensland Art Gallery and its Gallery of Modern Art, where he attracted record-breaking audiences with snappily marketed events.
His final show in Brisbane was last month's opening of the much praised Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado blockbuster.
Mr Ellwood said Victoria's state gallery was different to Queensland's "because they don't have significant historic collections there" but he said the NGV, at its St Kilda Road and Federation Square campuses, needed to focus on what he called "an inclusive approach and an attentiveness to the visitor". This included everything from installing new lighting in its foyers, to adopting mobile "self-guiding" devices for visitors.
"It's a given that when you come to the NGV you will see beautiful art across a broad range of art history beautifully presented, but I want to see seamless communication for visitors and see staff coming out from behind the information desks and suggesting what they might like to see," he said.
"And I don't think you can assume that because you belong to one demographic, you only like one kind of art."
Mr Ellwood said the NGV had always had a strong commitment to contemporary art but conceded there was a general perception it needed to do more. "Maybe we need to invest more time in a big annual statement around contemporary art," he said, adding he would like to raise funds for a series of commissions for new work for the St Kilda Road gallery foyer.
"I have great ambitions for that space," he said. "One of the things I'm desperate to do is embrace Melbourne's incredible scene of contemporary artists."