‘Choose a theme which you are passionate about.’
‘Seek out sources of inspiration from everywhere.’
‘Explore and play with materials and techniques you may not have previously considered.’
‘Invest a sufficient amount of time consistently – don’t leave things to the last minute.’
‘Record everything in your folio – even what doesn’t work.’
‘Art can often be unpredictable – be prepared to be dynamic in your creativity.’
‘Have fun.’

Such words of wisdom are consistently and encouragingly offered by the fifty-four Top Arts 2018 exhibitors, giving clear insight into the approach required to produce inspired and excellent works of art. Works from VCE Art and VCE Studio Arts students are chosen from across Victoria’s state, Catholic and independent schools for Top Arts. They are the outstanding result of genuine passion for a topic, risk-taking, organisation, research, dynamism and hard work. The National Gallery of Victoria, Australia’s oldest public gallery, continues to proudly support the artists of tomorrow through this unique annual exhibition.

Top Arts is part of the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority’s (VCAA) VCE Season of Excellence, a five-month annual arts festival showcasing outstanding work from students in Victorian senior secondary schools. In its twenty-fourth year working with the VCAA, Top Arts showcases a wealth of imaginative, skilful and diverse work by a new group of young artists.
More than 2200 students applied online for Top Arts 2018 and the selection panel enjoyed perusing their diverse creative output. The panel comprised:

• VCAA State Reviewer for VCE Art, Rachael Miller
• VCAA State Reviewer for VCE Studio Arts, Andrew Landrigan
• VCAA Regional representative, Julie Bond
• NGV Educator, Ingrid Wood
• NGV Educator and this year’s Top Arts curator, David Menzies

They shortlisted 136 works of art by students who then brought their work, folios and support material to the VCAA centre in Coburg for the selection panel to make final choices. Top Arts selection criteria (listed on the VCAA website) indicate excellence was paramount across all studies, from the brainstorming of ideas through to the realisation of a work of art. The panel was looking for strong conceptual development, imaginative and individual qualities, technical competency and clever aesthetic considerations. Alongside these, a range of media, themes and approaches were also sought.

After three days of discussion, reflection and healthy debate, fifty-four works were chosen to be part of Top Arts 2018. The chosen works delve deeply into some of the greatest concerns of contemporary times, including environmental degradation, psychological resilience, materialism and the influence of mass media. Celebrations of human diversity, transition and surprising views of our world are also captured and presented. Our next generation of artists have also experimented courageously with both traditional and unusual materials, including expanding foam used by builders, and denim.

Preparation begins

Preparation for the exhibition gathered momentum once selection was complete in mid-December. Each work of art was carefully catalogued by NGV staff, with the title, artist’s name, dimensions, medium and any other necessary details recorded to produce an exhibition checklist. This is a vital document used by NGV departments involved in the exhibition. Meanwhile, NGV photographers shot each work so they can be featured in promotional material and publications. For example, shortlisted artists Thomas Emerson and Sienna Espie’s images have been used for Top Arts 2018 posters and invitations. The website also contains pictures of every work of art with information about it and the process to reach realisation.

While the cataloguers and photographers were hard at work, exhibition conservators assessed each piece for any particular conservation requirements. Top Arts 2018 presented the usual challenges – some works needed framing, others required modifications to display systems, several necessitated plinths or display cases for safety, and a few called for minor touch-ups because of the effects of transit. All conservation considerations are communicated to the artist prior to installation and throughout the eighty-five days of the exhibition the conservator reviews each work regularly, instigating treatment if required.

The curator’s role

Throughout the process, the curator works with a team of specialised and highly skilled NGV professionals to tease out the many perspectives present in every work. The curator carries and communicates detailed knowledge and appreciation of each work and artist as they liaise with the exhibitor, designers, promoters, publishers, exhibition sponsors, audience engagers and the public.
The curator also works closely with exhibition designers to create an engaging connection between the works of art and the many thousands who visit them. Consideration is given to wall colours, display systems, the arrangement of the works, signage, furniture, pathways, vantage points and multimedia installation. Physical modelling, along with computer software systems, are utilised in the fashioning and preparation of the exhibition with special consideration given to accessibility and safety for both visitors and works of art. Graphic designers also collaborate in preparing signage and display elements in the space, as well as contributing to electronic publications and other exhibition material.

‘Bumping in’ the exhibition

Planning completed, the space is readied for Top Arts 2018. Time is critical, deadlines are looming and an exhibition opening on March 23 with hundreds of guests awaits. Cleaning, construction, painting, off-gassing, installation of the works and exhibition furniture, lighting, labels and cleaning are carried out in a highly coordinated fashion.

The NGV Media and Marketing teams promote the exhibition to a broad audience in a variety of ways. The media department looks to radio, television and print media, local papers are encouraged to celebrate their local Top Arts exhibitors, and the marketing department uses social media and advertising to cleverly raise the profile of the exhibition. Hero images are chosen and particular works or stories are promoted to rouse interest.

Education programs are also readied, along with other audience engagement activities. Thousands of students visit Top Arts each year to enjoy the art and seek inspiration and insight to aid their own work. Many participate in NGV interactive presentations and the much-loved folio viewings.

In an exhibition that showcases several students’ focus on technology and reach, it seems appropriate that this year’s publication containing information, images and video appears on the Top Arts 2018 website, allowing access anywhere in the world. The website is also a great resource for a class of students or for a quick check of a folio or work of art. Short-listed students are also profiled and four example folios with annotated comments from state reviewers give insights into how a good folio addresses the criteria of each study. Downloadable focus questions for VCE Art and VCE Studio Arts aid subject-specific information gathering and viewing of art, folios and presentations, and interviews with fourteen exhibitors are available to view. There is much wisdom and insight shared in each.

The NGV is grateful to once again have the wonderful support of its sponsors and education partners. The VCAA provides administration, logistical and curriculum support and awards a prize to the student whose work of art is most outstanding. Macquarie Group, the Principal Partner of Top Arts 2018, has generously sponsored the People’s Choice Award and the Macquarie Group Collection Award for the student whose work best encapsulates the theme of Macquarie Group’s own art collection: The Land and its Psyche. Deakin University, the major partner, backs the exhibition generously in a number of ways, one of which is an award for the work that best celebrates innovative use of technology in the contemporary world.

We invite you to visit Top Arts 2018 to see with your own eyes the thought provoking and extraordinary works of art from VCE Art and VCE Studio Arts students of 2017. We hope they inspire within you a love and concern of the world into which they are about to embark.

Top Arts 2018 is on display in the NGV Design Studio at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, from 23 March through to 15 July 2018.