Australia opens new gallery amid economic gloom
By Rob Taylor
CANBERRA (Reuters Life!) - It cost nearly $20 million more than planned, and opens amid fear of recession, but Australians are hailing a new portrait gallery as a celebration of national identity.
In a low, lakefront building pierced by sunlight in the nation's capital Canberra, colonial-era paintings hang nearby photographs of the late "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin and multimedia moving images of Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett.
"It doesn't really matter if it's a photograph or a painting, or a sculpture or a new media piece, so long as you look at it and you get a real sense there is somebody in there," Andrew Sayers, director of the A$88 million ($56 million) National Portrait Gallery told state radio.
The gallery, 10 years in conception, has room for around 500 artworks. Its predecessor -- 130 works which have been on display in a temporary home nearby at the former parliament building -- has been an unexpected hit with Australians and tourists.
The collection began in earnest only in 1999 with a portrait of Australia's discoverer James Cook, painted by John Webber in 1782, three years after the British explorer's death.
Natural light was a design focus for the gallery, which critics have called the most beautiful to date in a scratch-built city of politics, criticized for favoring brutalist, concrete monuments at odds with a stunning mountain horizon to the west.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
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