Student Insight: Behind the Scenes at the NGV Triennial Exhibition

Students who were treated to a behind the scenes tour through the NGV’s inaugural Triennial exhibition lead by Conservator MaryJo Lelyveld

Master of Cultural Materials Conservation and Diploma of Languages (Arabic) student, Perri Sparnon, was one of a handful of lucky Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences students who were treated to a behind the scenes tour through the NGV’s inaugural Triennial exhibition lead by Conservator MaryJo Lelyveld.

Perri gave us her take on the tour, and how it reaffirmed her dream of becoming a conservator

I found out about the Behind the scenes trip to the NGV through an email from Arts Students Programs. I thought the tour would be a great chance to learn more about how an exhibition of the Triennial’s scope and scale is realised within the NGV; and how conservators worked with other museum departments to make the Triennial a success.

We met MaryJo Lelyveld, Coordinating Conservator at the NGV, in the morning before the gallery opened. MaryJo began by introducing herself and the purpose of the tour, before walking around the gallery with us and sharing fascinating stories about key works in the Triennial including Xu Zen’s Eternity Buddha in Nirvana, Yayoi Kusama's Flower Obsession and Ron Mueck's Mass.

Ron Mueck's Mass (left) and Xu Zen's Eternity Buddha in Nirvana, (right)

I enjoyed hearing MaryJo’s many behind-the-scenes stories about the installation and maintenance of works in the Triennial. We learned about how Xu Zen’s sculpture weighed 1.3 tonnes and was divided into 12 pieces that were reassembled inside the NGV, and how the sculpture came with assembly drawings and instructions written in Chinese, which presented a challenge to the NGV’s installation team. It was also very interesting to hear about the long process of commissioning Ron Mueck’s 100 fiberglass skulls for the Triennial and how the Head of Conservation at the NGV, Michael Varcoe-Cocks, worked closely with the artist to realise the project.


MaryJo explaining the transformation of a once completely white 'apartment' for Yayoi Kusama’s Flower Obsession

The tour was incredibly helpful in providing me with insights into how conservation is practiced in galleries and museums today, and how the theories, ethical frameworks and decision-making principles I’ve learnt about in the degree can be applied to real-life situations. MaryLo’s anecdotes about working with international artists to bring works to the Triennial highlighted the importance of additional-language skills for developing respectful cultural relations and careers in the Arts.

I get to undertake an internship in the final year of my program; the tour re-affirmed by aspiration to do it at the new Louvre Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. It would allow me to develop my conservation skills and knowledge within a major international museum, practice my Arabic language skills, and develop invaluable professional connections in the Arab world. The tour through the Triennial proved that these skills will be just as useful here in Victoria, as they will be internationally.


Learn more about the Master of Cultural Materials Conservation, Diploma of Language, and current student opportunities.