As director of the cutting-edge Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Smith tastemaker Elizabeth Ann Macgregor has turned her passion into her profession. Born in Dundee, she discovered the world of art at university and hasn’t looked back since. Prestigious posts in Scotland, and helming Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery followed, before she headed down under – where her bold decisions (scrapping the MCA’s entrance fees) and penchant for tartan DMs soon turned heads. Liz Ann bagged an OBE for championing the arts this year, and shares her culture-savvy travel tips here.
You began your career as a curator/driver for the Scottish Arts Council’s travelling gallery – was that fun?
It was my ideal job – taking art to people, from highland villages to inner-city estates. The most memorable journey was driving the bus onto the ferry over to the Western Isles of Scotland on a stunning day. For once it wasn’t raining!
Having worked in Scotland, Birmingham and Sydney, which feels most like home?
They say you can take the girl out of Scotland, but you can never take Scotland out of the girl! I haven’t lived there for a long time but I still feel nostalgic about it. Australia, though, feels more and more like home.
You’ve been heading up Sydney’s MCA since 1999. What do you love about it?
It’s arguably the museum with the most beautiful location in the world. We have three floors of galleries where we present a range of contemporary art, from the local to the international. A visitor to Sydney might be stimulated by an exhibition of new work by young Australian artists, have lunch overlooking the harbour and Opera House, and finish up nearby in the Rocks, one of the city’s most historic precincts.
The MCA is closed temporarily for a radical revamp, with off-site shows until the relaunch in March 2012 – tell us about your plans?
The new MCA will have a National Centre for Creative Learning, spacious extra galleries, an entire floor dedicated to Australian modern art, a café and sculpture terrace with views over the harbour, and fresh venues for hire on top of the old building. It will become an iconic centre for engaging with Australian and international art. While the gallery is closed, though, our Primavera show (until 13 November) is taking work by young Australian artists outside, with installations, video and performance-based work around the Rocks area.
You reviewed The Waterhouse at South Bund for Smith recently. What did you make of the hotel and Shanghai?
Shanghai is one of my favourite cities, where the historic and contemporary rub shoulders in fascinating ways. The Waterhouse reflects this duality perfectly.
Describe your ideal weekend away – what would it entail?
My ideal place to spend a weekend is underwater. I love South West Rocks, a small coastal town north of Sydney, where I can take snaps of magnificent endangered grey nurse sharks to spook my friends. It’s also on the edge of one of New South Wales’ most beautiful National Parks, Hat Head – the view of the wild beach from the Smoky Cape Lighthouse is breathtaking.
So you’re a bit of a diving fan? Which are your top scuba spots and where is still on your to-dive list?
I’m longing to go back to the Solomon Islands – there’s top diving off Uepi Island. I hope to get to the Raja Ampat Islands in West Papua, Indonesia, before it gets destroyed by mining. My husband Peter and I are returning to another aquatic paradise for New Year – Lissenung Island in Papua New Guinea. I’m lucky to live in a part of the world where there are so many fabulous places to dive.
Where’s your next holiday?
We went to visit friends in Umbria on the way to Venice this year, which reminded me how much I adore Italy. We found ourselves having lunch in an idyllic mediaeval village near Siena. It would be a great place to recover from the major re-launch of a museum – especially during the Giro d’Italia bike race, which my partner would love.
To see Liz Ann’s global travel address book, check back on the Smith blog next week. Pictures of diving, Shanghai and Venice courtesy of Peter le Gras.