Adelaide’s Samstag Museum of Art and Scholarships program play an outsized role in the national art scene

Erica GreenSamstag, or to give it its full title, the Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art, in the Hawke Building at the City West campus of the University of South Australia might be slightly tucked away but its impact on the national contemporary art scene is sizeable.

Not only does it play a central role to the cultural life and vibrancy of Adelaide but it is a leading player in the visual arts, renowned for its moving image exhibitions.

“There’s only a handful of galleries in Australia that have a regular program of commissioning moving image work and we are one of them,” says Erica Green, the Museum’s director, and the driving force behind its foundation in 2007.

The Samstag now has nine such commissions under its belt, many in partnership with the Adelaide Film Festival (AFF), providing generous funding for an artist to make work, which is then shown in the gallery.

The AFF partnership has opened up collaborations with other partners, such as local company Mosaic Audio Visual and Australian Centre for Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne.

“Mosiac are remarkable – like our silent partner,” says Samstag Curator Gillian Brown. “We couldn’t do it without their technical expertise, but that expertise has developed together year in, year out, putting on ambitious and very complex iterations of screen-based work, where you're thinking through ‘how many screens? how big? what's the sound doing?’

“They're really not simple constructions at all.”

The Samstag Museum of Art is named after Anne and Gordon Samstag who established a Trust to offer scholarships to Australian artists to travel and study overseas. Anne and Gordon Samstag, both accomplished artists themselves, arrived in Australia from America in 1961 for Gordon to take up a teaching position, first at RMIT University in Melbourne and later at the South Australian School of Art.

While Gordon’s highly-skilled social realist painting were never recognised in Australia, his experience in Adelaide was generally a happy one, except for some fraught relationships with the Adelaide art community and colleagues.

Then after retiring from the School of Art and their return to the US to live in Naples Florida, Anne came into a considerable inheritance following the sale of her family’s mining interests in 1979. 

Gordon, remembering the leg up he was given with a Pulitzer Travelling Scholarship in 1928 to study and travel abroad for a year established, the Anne & Gordon Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarships, which culminated in the establishment of the Samstag Scholarships program in 1991, which is administered by the University of South Australia through the Samstag Museum of Art, on behalf of Gordon Samstag's United States trustee.

​“The Samstag bequest has trained generations of Australian visual artists , giving them the opportunity to travel and study overseas. So generous, it provides almost all expenses paid, including fees, flights, accommodation, and other living costs”

Erica Green

Madison BYCROFT, a Samstag commission for the SALA Festival financed by the South Australian Film Corporation

“Our association with the Samstag Scholarships has elevated the Museum's reputation. It goes hand-in-hand. Our support of visual artists through our commissions is also matched by the Samstag Scholarships, supporting training artists who are now going and studying overseas,” she says.

While some years there are multiple scholarships awarded, one is always reserved for a South Australian artist.

“South Australia and its artists have been exceptionally privileged by the Scholarships program,” says Green. “The Scholarships are recognised as being life-changing, a golden passport. When the new Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art opened in late 2007, it was named in recognition of the Samstag’s extraordinary bequest to Australian artist Samstag, as the largest gallery dedicated to presenting contemporary art in Adelaide with its architecturally designed museum, carries an implicit obligation towards a wide demographic beyond the University, as a default Museum of Contemporary Art for Adelaide.”

While the Samstag supports Australian visual artists through exhibitions, commissions and the scholarship itself, the Museum also concentrates its effort on enriching the learning experience of UniSA Creative students through its academic engagement programs which links students at all stages of their learning journey with contemporary art practice through hands-on and immersive projects and intensives linked to either Samstag exhibitions or the SASA Gallery a stone’s throw away.

Higher Research Degree students benefit from the experience of working with a curator and installation team in realising their solo graduating exhibition. 

“It’s a privilege to work with students and be a kind of stepping-stone for them between a learning environment and professional practice” says Associate Curator, Anna Zagala.

“The Samstag is a launchpad in a lot of ways.”

Image: Madison BYCROFT, BIOPIC or CharlesGenevièveLouisAugusteAndréTimothée, 2021, a Samstag commission for the SALA Festival financed by the South Australian Film Corporation. Image still courtesy the artist and Samstag Museum of Art, University of South Australia. Photo: Sia Duff.  Madison Bycroft is a 2014 Samstag Scholar and a UniSA Alumni.

Profile of Samstag Museum of Art written by Bill Condie - 0450 952 365

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Samstag Museum of Art, University of South Australia, acknowledges the Kaurna people as traditional custodians of the land upon which the Museum stands.