New building sees art licensed on huge scale

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The new Chancellery at Monash University’s Clayton Campus celebrates one of Australia’s leading painters, printmakers and modernists: Margaret Preston.

Tea-tree and Hakea Petiolaris (1936), a lino-cut print embellished with hand-painted gouache, takes pride of place on the ceiling of the new building’s clerestory (a space with high windows to let in ample natural light). Copyright Agency oversaw the licensing process, consulting closely with the university, ARM Architecture and Kane Constructions to ensure the artwork’s faithful and exceptional reproduction.

The architects envisioned the clerestory ceiling as a canopy, making Preston’s depiction of native flora the perfect design candidate. It also connects the Chancellery to the extensive landscaping across Clayton campus with its distinctive Indigenous and native trees and plantings.

With the ceiling measuring 31 x 10.6 m, demanding adaptation not only to a new medium but on a huge scale, the licensing process focused on preserving the integrity of the original artwork.

Kane Constructions and Monash University recruited art print specialists and technical advisors to create ceiling tile samples, playing close attention to colour-matching the subtle shades of red, yellow and white. Copyright Agency then reviewed the samples before approving them for print, which was done in Australia on imported recycled wood panels.

The final product is a spectacular homage to Preston’s uniquely Australian modernist vision, visible from all floors of the Chancellery. The building stands as a testament to Monash University’s contemporary achievements, ambitions and identity, with Kane Constructions describing it as “a modern flexible workplace” accommodating both office and public space.

More than this, however, it is a portal between the university and the surrounding community in twenty-first century Melbourne. As ARM Architecture’s Founding Director Ian McDougall says, “The Chancellery is a fundamental symbol of the family that staff and students have joined when they first enrolled, started work, partnered, or associated with Monash.”

Ceiling design incorporating Margaret Preston’s Tea-tree and Hakea Petiolaris (detail), 1936 © Estate of Margaret Preston/Copyright Agency. Photo by Rhiannon Slattery, courtesy of Monash University.

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