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Guy Cogeval, Director of the Musée d’Orsay opened the NGA’s Degas exhibition in 2008. He was impressed by the NGA's exhibition displays and curatorial scholarship It was through this week in Australia that I learned of the closure and refurbishment of their Impressionst Galleries and the impending tour. The NGA could be the first venue, but we would have less than 12 months to develop and deliver this major exhibition, but given the incredible quality of the works proposed by the d’Orsay; I knew this could arguably be the finest blockbuster exhibition ever to come to Australia.

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To encourage families to visit, we designed a Family Activity Room within the exhibition - building a 3D version of Van Gogh's Bedroom at Arles. With the generous support of the Yulgilbar Foundation, the room was visited byover 60,000 visitors during the exhibition

Exhibition Development

carried out the Contract discussions with the d’Orsay, prepared a business case and content presentation, a full exhibition budget with ticket sale projections and break even, best- and worst-case scenarios, fundraising targets required to break even, national marketing campaign allocation and, a risk management strategy. 


The exhibition needed to attract 250,000 visitors over a four-month period to break even - it had to be the highest attended exhibition, with the highest daily attendance ever held at the NGA. Monet and Japan (2001) had achieved 227,000 visitors with a shorter season and, with the works that had been confirmed by the Orsay, we were confident we would meet this target.


The exhibition proposal and budgets were approved by the NGA Board and we immediately began working towards achieving the ambitious fundraising target. 

The Minister for the Arts, ACT Government, immediately saw the combined benefits for the arts and the ACT economy and confirmed $500,000 in funding for a national marketing campaign. Over the next 8 months we secured corporate sponsorship and support from private donors. The bulk of the cost of the exhibition would be borne by the NGA and covered through projected ticket sales and commercial revenue. 

I took on the role of Project Leader. With only a short period available to develop the exhibition, the d’Orsay agreed to Co-curate the exhibition with the NGA. Working with colleagues from Japan and The Legion of Honour, San Francisco, we quickly confirmed the final checklist. I developed a production schedule for our catalogue - essay’s and catalogue entries were assigned to staff in Paris and Canberra.

I confirmed the Federal Government Indemnity, and secured Qantas Freight as a sponsor. 


I designed the exhibitions layout; freight and couriers were all confirmed and the exhibitions installation and opening all went very smoothly. 


The only logistical problem was an unforeseeable delay during the packing up of the exhibition. We had significant disruptions to courier travel from Europe, caused by volcanic ash from an Icelandic volcano. This resulted in a delay in packing some works and needing an extension to the Indemnity period, which was granted by the Minister.

Attendance & Managing ‘the queues’

Masterpieces opened on 4 December 2009 with typical attendances for a major blockbuster. December and January ticket sales were slightly higher than past exhibitions but not remarkably outside what I had projected.


Like all Summer shows, it had an enormous boxing day and with our regular blockbuster extended hours, queues and ticket sales were all very manageable. .


I reserved from 9am to 10am each weekday during the school term, for free booked school groups and over 38,000 students visit the exhibition over 10 weeks.

As with past Summer blockbusters, I expected ticket sales to decline by around 25% after Australia Day, but unlike other shows, pre-purchased tickets sales increase in February and March. A few days of surveying visitors showed that they all had the same plan - avoid the busy school holiday period and visit in February. From late January we had over a thousand visitors queuing outside the Gallery at 10 am each day, with the first people queuing from 7.30am – this is when we installed a coffee cart at the entry to the gallery.


Premium Tickets were sold for each weekend, providing entry an hour before the show opened to the public, with a maximum of 250 tickets per session. By mid-February every sessions had sold out.

Visitation peaked on the long weekend in March with 14,000 visitors on the Saturday and Sunday.  We implemented many new measures to improve waiting times and increase visitor comfort. We ran a ‘plan your visit’ national marketing campaign and provided regular twitter updates on queue waiting times. Staff volunteered to assist with queue management; queue entertainment was provided each weekend; local community and charity groups were rostered to run a BBQ for visitors; free sunscreen was distributed each day; Canberra Times provided show-bags during peak periods and the National Portrait Gallery handed out free posters with instructions on how to fold them into a sun hat. 


Over one hundred thousand general entry (un-dated/un-timed) pre-sale tickets had been sold for remainder of the season, so it was impossible to implement timed ticketing for the final two and a half months. When we had the opportunity to extend the exhibition by a further 2 weeks, we released those days as timed tickets and went from 3 hour queues every day to having no wait time to see the exhibition.

Exhibition result

Masterpieces from Paris attracted 478,044 visitors - making it the highest attended visual art exhibition ever held in Australia.

It was considered to be the first exhibition held in a single venue to receive a truly national audience, with over 400,000 visitors travelling from the rest of the country to see the exhibition in Canberra.


Visitors purchased nearly 55,000 copies of the exhibition catalogue and nearly a quarter of million postcards, posters, and prints.

The Australian National University visitation report estimated that the ACT economy benefited through expenditure of over $94 million from visitors to the exhibition.

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