Drawn to the City: Rebecca Evans, The Curator

Each month, illustrator Leo Greenfield sketches and profiles an Adelaide
character who makes this city tick. This month: Rebecca Evans.

It’s the calm before the storm,” Rebecca Evans says as we sit down in the Art Gallery of South Australia’s (AGSA) café to discuss the gallery’s upcoming fashion-focussed events.

Evans is the curator of European and Australian Decorative Arts at AGSA and is about to launch a new exhibition and fund to explore and encourage the crossover of fine art with design.

For Evans, curating is an expanding practice. She believes it’s no longer necessary to question whether a discipline is fit for a gallery. Instead, she hopes to explore the possibilities of blurring the boundaries, as the “traditional divisions are growing and changing and even collapsing in on each other”.

The exhibition Paolo Sebastian: X will be a prime example of this. Here the couture gowns of Paul Vasileff, created in Adelaide, will be displayed alongside AGSA’s permanent collection.

AGSA will launch a new fashion fund, dedicated to the acquisition of contemporary Australian and international fashion design. Collecting fashion is vital to the gallery due to the unique reactions it can stir from the viewer. “Fashion creates a very physical reaction,” Evans says. A dress, frock or suit can have a “lived-in quality to them” as they reflect key life moments as “memories are captured in garments” says Evans.

This fearless mix of design and art has long been a part of the curatorial activities at AGSA. Evans says the “gallery has bucked tradition with its history of showing design alongside paintings and sculpture”. The gallery’s collection of works by Morris & Co (UK, 1861–1940) also reflects this interest in craft as an art practice in Adelaide.

Evans sees a link between this historical art collective and the model of business practiced by Vasileff, where the designer is involved with every part of the production process. Morris & Co was inspired in opposition to the Industrial Revolution; today Paolo Sebastian’s couture designs demonstrate a return to hand-crafted boutique making as the digital revolution continues to take hold.

Evans left Sydney and a curatorial role at the Powerhouse Museum to further her career here in Adelaide. Originally from Wollongong, Evans began investigating design in her hometown by studying Australian History, Fine Art and later Curatorial Studies. At the Powerhouse Museum, Evans worked to “consider the relationship of design to technology”.

At AGSA, her work reflects and reconsiders the relationship between design and art. When it comes to personal style, Evans loves to react against the all-black curatorial uniform. She opts for the bright colours of Australiana designers such as Linda Jackson’s Bush Couture and Romance was Born.

The day we meet, Evans wears a vibrant scarf by local artist Julie White and bright red dancing shoes. The curator also has a collection of clothing from the 1950s and sets off these pieces with Bakelite Art Deco jewellery. But it’s the shoes that reveal most about her character; they expose her passion for swing dancing.

“It’s one of the greatest joys of my life,” says Evans.

Design fascinates Evans but she’s also obsessed with manufacturing. Alongside her role at AGSA, Evans lectures at the University of Adelaide, where she distils in her students the need to not only study art history, but to look deeper and “know the history of making”. Evans’ move to Adelaide has put her at the coalface of the debate surrounding art and design. For her, South Australian audiences are very receptive and “up for a challenge more than anywhere else in Australia”.

Leo Greenfield is a freelance illustrator
leogreenfield.com
artgallery.sa.gov.au

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