NAS Double Centenary Double Celebration

Rebecca Varidel
14th Sep 2022

National Art School Centenary Exhibition: CAPTIVATE

This major exhibition CAPTIVATE marks a significant double centenary: 100 years since the art school moved to the historic site in 1922, and 200 years since the building began on the Darlinghurst Gaol in 1822. Displays across the NAS campus delves into the rich history of this place that has been Gadigal land since the beginning, and a dynamic public program offers free events, talks, tours and hands-on art activities.

The National Art School (NAS) presents CAPTIVATE: The National Art School and Darlinghurst Gaol from 23 September – 30 October 2022, an original series of exhibitions and programs across campus and a new book CAPTIVATE: Stories from the
National Art School and Darlinghurst Gaol
. Together they tell the tale of an extraordinary transformation, as a harsh and dismal prison became a lively, flourishing art school.

The National Art School’s origins go back to 1843, but a pivotal moment in its history was in 1922 when it moved into the former Darlinghurst Gaol, a place that since the beginning has been Gadigal land.

After a call-out for original material to feature in CAPTIVATE, artworks and items from every period of the gaol and art school’s past have flooded in from around Australia. The exhibition will show many treasures in public for the first time: original paintings and drawings by bushranger Captain Starlight; the incredible scrapbook of prisoners’ artwork collected by John Cecil Read, Darlinghurst Gaol governor from 1861-1889, as well as his original gun and baton, all donated to NAS by his family this year; and artworks from the School of Design established by the legendary Phyllis Shillito, NAS’s first full-time female teacher.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, artist Graham Mackie has donated a purple toilet seat awarded as a memorial cricket shield in the NAS Staff vs Students match in 1972. Also on show will be posters made by students, publicising art school balls and protest marches, including the first poster ever made by pop artist Martin Sharp.

Darlinghurst Gaol opened in 1841 and operated until 1914. During that time many thousands of men and women were imprisoned there. Some only stayed a few days, some served a life sentence, and 76 people were hanged. In 1922 the site was taken over by East Sydney Technical College, including its art department, which in 1926 was renamed the National Art School. It went on to become Australia’s leading art school and launched the careers of many notable and successful artists, but NAS also spent decades fighting for its survival and freedom to remain independent.

In February 2022, the Koomurri organisation brought four Aboriginal community members to NAS to cleanse the campus and buildings over a week-long smoking ceremony, providing a positive pathway into the future. Alderton said: “NAS invites everyone to discover and share our stories, and to find their own creative inspiration making art on this site, joining our continuing story as a vital cultural hub in the heart of Sydney.”

Friday 23 September – Sunday 30 October 2022, Monday - Saturday, 11am - 5pm
NAS Gallery, Drawing Gallery and Rayner Hoff Project Space
NATIONAL ART SCHOOL, 156 Forbes St, Darlinghurst
Curators: Deborah Beck, NAS Archivist and Collections Manager; Katrina Cashman, NAS Gallery
Manager & Senior Curator; Sonia Legge, Curator, Collections; Vivienne Webb, Curator, Gallery;
Joseph Frost, Drawing Lecturer.

Diana and Sally Medworth preparing for the 1949 art students’ ball