THE POWER INSTITUTE FOUNDATION FOR ART AND VISUAL CULTURE

Our mission is to develop the latest ideas and theories concerning visual art and culture – past, present and future – and to communicate them, both nationally and internationally.

History

The Power Institute was established by a bequest from Dr John Joseph Wardell Power to, in his words:

"make available to the people of Australia the latest ideas and theories in plastic arts by means of lectures and teaching and by the purchase of the most recent contemporary art of the world ... so as to bring the people of Australia in more direct touch with the latest art developments in other countries."

Today the bequest is managed by the Power Institute Foundation which assists the University of Sydney, through the Power Institute, to realise the aims of its founder. The Foundation achieves this by

  • supporting research and scholarship in the Power Institute and its initiatives;
  • supporting the development of the Schaeffer Fine Arts Library, Power Publications and the Public Education program;
  • promoting the Institute in the wider community and encouraging good international relations for Australia in the Fine Arts; and
  • seeking financial and other support for the Institute's activities.

Donations to the Foundation play a vital role in realising these aims, and are tax deductible.

Structure

The Power Institute conducts many activities in research, public education, publications, as well as housing a significant collection of images, books and other research materials in the Schaeffer Fine Arts Library, which is one of the largest art reference libraries in Australia. Formerly known as the Power Research Library, it was established in 1968 specialising in twentieth-century art. Its current scope encompasses the entire history of art, and the collection presently comprises some 22,000 books and exhibition catalogues, 4,000 bound journal volumes, plus honours and higher-degree theses and essays, and an increasing collection of non-book (audiovisual, CD Rom) material. Emeritus Professor Bernard Smith, leading art historian and critic and the inaugural Director of the Power Institute, has willed his extensive book collection to the Power Institute.

The Visual Resources Library is a primary repository and record of the work of Australian artists. It also holds a collection of over 165,000 slides and digital images surveying art history from prehistoric times through to the present, and a large collection of videorecordings. The Visual Resources Library is currently building a major database of digital images that greatly increases access to its collection for teachers, students and researchers.

The Public Education Program component of the Power Institute enables it to communicate (and in so doing, to further develop) the latest ideas and theories concerning visual art and culture on a national and international basis. It is thus a core component of the Institute, and its activities include presenting public lectures by distinguished Australian and international scholars for researchers, students and the general public.

The Public Education unit also hosts and co-ordinates national and international conferences on crucial and timely topics, and feeds into Power Publications which commissions and publishes many of the research papers.

From its modest beginnings in 1986, Power Publications publishes books about visual culture by Australian and international researchers. In 2006 they received a prestigious grant from the J Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles to publish a series of books, Australian Studies in Art and Art Theory. Their most recent publication is How Aborigines invented the idea of contemporary art, edited by Ian McLean. See their current list of titles here.

The Power Institute works in close collaboration with a number of Affiliated Institutions, such as the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Sydney College of the Arts.

Currently the Institute is in the process of developing a database of Alumni and Friends it shares with the Department of Art History and Film Studies (formerly known as the Department of Fine Arts).

Power Foundation Council

The Power Foundation Council is devoted to supporting the Institute in the pursuit of its goals and to promoting its activities in Australia and abroad. For more information, please visit: http://sydney.edu.au/arts/power/about/council.shtml

Dr John Joseph Wardell Power

Dr John Joseph Wardell Power was born in Sydney in 1881 and died in Jersey, Channel Islands, during the German occupation in 1943.

His mother encouraged him to draw and paint from the age of seven. She was the daughter of William Wardell, one of Australia's most distinguished architects. Wardell designed St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney; St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne; St John's College, Sydney University, and many other important buildings in Victoria and New South Wales.

In 1905 John Power graduated with Bachelor of Medicine from the University of Sydney and travelled to London to pursue his medical studies. During the First World War he served as a physician in the British Army, with the rank of Captain.

After the war he gave up the practice of medicine and enrolled as an art student in the Atelier Aranso, Paris, from 1920 to 1922. In Paris he developed a deep interest in Cubist and abstract art.

He became a member of the London Group and the Comite Abstraction-Creation, Paris, exhibiting from time to time between 1924 and 1933. Dr Power's own paintings were acquired for a number of notable private collections in England, including those of Lord Churchill, Samuel Courtauld, Sir Michael Sadler, Dudley Tooth and Anthony Bertram, as well as the Municipal Art Gallery of Nottingham and the Contemporary Art Society, London.

In 1934 he published a book based upon his studies in Cubism entitled The Elements of Pictorial Composition. In 1939, after providing for his wife, a business friend and a relative, John Power left the residue of his estate to the University of Sydney "to make available to the people of Australia the latest ideas and theories in plastic arts by means of lectures and teaching and by the purchase of the most recent contemporary art of the world ... so as to bring the people of Australia in more direct touch with the latest art developments in other countries."

At her death, Mrs Power bequeathed her husband's drawings, sketches and paintings to the University of Sydney. They are housed and exhibited, as she desired, in the Museum of Contemporary Art.