The Art Newspaper: If you could live with just one work of art, what would it be?
Beatrice Gralton: Girl (1957), a work by the Australian modernist artist Joy Hester, in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. I love its simplicity and tenderness.
Which cultural experience changed the way you see the world?
In 1988 my Dad took me to see The Aboriginal Memorial at Pier 2/3 on Sydney Harbour as part of the 7th Biennale of Sydney. The 200 burial poles, made by artists from Central Arnhem Land, were surrounded with red earth and there was a path so you could walk through the installation. I remember the old pier creaking with the movement of the harbour and a sense of being close to water, land and sky all at once. I was 10 years old and this experience opened a door for me into the beauty and power of Australia’s First Nations culture.
Which writer do you return to most?
Jonas Mekas’s I Had Nowhere to Go is a book I love. Mekas’s insight into the human condition in the face of hardship combined with his absurd sense of humour is terrific. The Little Lives of Certain Chairs: A Table or Two: And Other Inanimates of Our Acquaintance by Barbara Blackman is also one of my favourites. I have a first edition that I found in a secondhand shop years ago. Barbara writes with such warmth; she imparts lifeless things with a soul.
What music or other audio do you listen to as you work?
When I’m writing or working at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, I don’t listen to anything because I’ll get distracted. When I’m working at the Brett Whiteley Studio in Surry Hills, Sydney, I listen to a playlist that has been made from the over 600 records and CDs that Whiteley owned. The playlist moves through all kinds of great artists and genres including Nina Simone, Bob Dylan and Mozart.
What are you watching, listening to or following that you would recommend?
I really love the NPR All Songs Considered podcast and Tiny Desk concerts. I got really into the concerts in 2020 during lockdown when I was living in the United States with my husband and our two little kids and we couldn’t get out much; they were a lifeline.
What is art for?
To help us make sense of the world.
• Beatrice Gralton is one of four curators of The National 4: Australian Art Now, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Carriageworks and Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, 24 March-23 July; she is senior curator of the Brett Whiteley Studio at the Art Gallery of New South Wales