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Power Institute

Sharing the latest ideas on art with the world

We curate public talks and workshops from internationally renowned scholars, house one of Australia's leading fine art libraries, publish award-winning titles and engage with partner organisations to generate new research.

The Power Institute was established by a bequest from Dr John Joseph Wardell Power.

To make available to the people of Australia the latest ideas and theories in plastic arts, so as to bring the people of Australia in more direct touch with the latest art developments in other countries.
Dr John Joseph Wardell Power

Our focus is on seeking out, developing and communicating ideas and theories in visual art and culture – past, present and future – through teaching, research, public talks, exhibitions, publications and podcasts, for a national and international audience.

We work in close collaboration with a wide range of publishing, research and collecting institutions – such as China Studies Centre, VisAsia, Museum of Contemporary Art, National Gallery of Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Institut national d’histoire de l’art, National Gallery Singapore, University of Melbourne and Melbourne University Publishing, and many others.

Our activities are supported by local donors such as the Keir Foundation and Nelson Meers Foundation and philanthropic bodies such as the Getty Research Institute and Terra Foundation for American Art. The Power Institute is a member of the International Association of Research Institutes in the History of Art.

Designed by architects Allen, Jack & Cottier, the Schaeffer Fine Arts Library is one of the leading art libraries in Australia. The Schaeffer is known for the academic quality and breadth of its holdings, which incorporate the Power Research Collection and the Power Visual Resources Collection. Housed within RC Mills Building on the University of Sydney campus, this specialist reference library is open to students and the public.

Established in 1986, Power Publications is a leading and award-winning publisher of books on modern and contemporary art and theory, cultural studies, media studies, film and animation. 

We publish both new monographs and edited volumes on art and visual culture, from groundbreaking publications on Asian modernisms and contemporary Aboriginal art, to photography, fashion theory and rare English translations of major theoretical interventions.

Browse the catalogue, download sample pages and purchase books on our Power Publications website

A core component of our work is focused on public engagement and education. Through our Power speaker program we connect students, scholars and the general public with the latest theories and debates concerning the visual arts, and their role in contemporary society. We also facilitate support for the Department of Art History in the form of event funding and subsidies for students to attend fieldwork courses.

The Power Institute hosts and coordinates national and international conferences on critical and timely topics and also facilitates multi-year research projects which aid in the development of regional and international research networks and seed outcomes such as Power Publications. Ambitious Alignments and Site & Space in Southeast Asia are two such multi-year collaborative research projects, both supported by the Getty Research Institute’s Connecting Art Histories initiative.

We strive to maintain a lively, historically informed, culturally relevant and global debate about art and what it means to society. Our events are open to the general public and are also available as podcasts and videos.

Our Sydney Asian Art Series presents leading international voices on early, modern and contemporary Asian art. We co-present this quarterly series of talks and events with the University of Sydney’s China Studies Centre and VisAsia, with support from the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Sydney Ideas.

Our Keir Lectures on Art Series focuses on new thinking and ideas from international art historians, curators and critics. The lecture series is supported by the Keir Foundation and presented in partnership with The University of Melbourne.

Sign up to our newsletter or follow us on Twitter or Facebook to keep up to date with the latest news, publications and events program.

Each year we offer studio residencies at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris for artists, art scholars and art writers.

Located in the Marais quarter of Paris, the Cité Internationale des Arts in the Rue de L'Hotel de Ville provides studio accommodation for foreign and provincial art students, including musicians, painters, sculptors and graphic artists. 

Check the Cité page on the Power Publications website for application dates, guidelines and residency reports.

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.

Power Foundation Council Members

  • Ms Susan Acret
  • Professor Umberto Ansaldo
  • Ms Melissa Bonevska
  • Mr Simon Chan
  • Ms Marie Chretien
  • Ms Julie Ewington
  • Mrs Lynn Fern, President
  • Ms Lesa-Belle Furhagen
  • Professor Annamarie Jagose
  • Professor Mark Ledbury
  • Ms Anna Waldmann

Life Members/Governors of the Foundation

  • Mr Peter Burrows (AO)
  • Mr John Schaeffer (AO)
  • Dr Gene Sherman
  • Emeritus Professor Bernard Smith, Life Governor
  • Professor Terry Smith

Director

Professor Mark Ledbury

Secretary

Ms Susan Thomas

  • Professor Mark Ledbury, Director
  • Dr Stephen Whiteman, Deputy Director
  • Susan Thomas, Power Administrator & Records
  • Marni Williams, Publications Manager
  • Kate Ukleja, Events and Programming
  • Toby Fitch, Editorial Assistant

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, the daughter of William Wardell, one of Australia's most distinguished architects, encouraged him to draw and paint from the age of seven. 

In 1905 John Power graduated with a 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.

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. John Power’s legacy as one of the most important avant-gardists of the twentieth century is explored in the publication J.W. Power Abstraction-Création Paris 1934, by A.D.S. Donaldson and Ann Stephen.

Director

Mark Ledbury