Tracy Cooper-Lavery, HOTA director, gallery and visual arts, Gold Coast

... we jointly settled on the idea to curate an exhibition of Pop Art in Australia’s post-modern pop city

Tracy Cooper-Lavery is director of gallery and visual arts at HOTA, Home of the Arts Gold Coast. As an arts museum leader with a career spanning 25 years, Tracy has curated numerous exhibitions on Australian and international art and is the curator of HOTA Gallery’s first international exhibition, Pop Masters: Art from the Mugrabi Collection, New York. Shortly after the world-exclusive exhibition’s opening, we spoke to Tracy about the masters of Pop Art, some of her favourite pieces gracing the HOTA gallery and all of the fun things ‘popping’ up at HOTA.

Pop Masters: Art from the Mugrabi Collection, New York is a world-exclusive exhibition. Tell us, how did this selection of works end up on the Gold Coast in not just an Australian first, but a world first?
It’s the Gold Coast way to use ambition and bravado, and one of my first initiatives way back in 2016 was to develop an international program of exhibitions for the new HOTA Gallery. Utilising some key contacts in New York, it was having the tenacity to introduce the Mugrabi family to HOTA and the Gold Coast as a new player in the art world, and that our first international exhibition should be from one the world’s greatest private collections of contemporary art. After several meetings and many late-night calls, we jointly settled on the idea to curate an exhibition of Pop Art in Australia’s post-modern pop city.

This exhibition has been years in the making. Can you tell us any challenges you faced while curating an exhibition of this magnitude during the Covid era?
Certainly the uncertainty at times of whether we could manage to get the exhibition here from New York! Covid played havoc with our timelines and the exhibition had a number of false starts. That also meant that we couldn’t travel to New York to meet the lenders or see any of the works in person prior to the exhibition arriving. It was definitely a different way to curate an exhibition – working online from spreadsheets with thumbnail size images of the collection!

The exhibition features more than 50 works that are never-before-seen in Australia by 15 legendary and renowned artists. If you had to narrow down your favourite piece, what would it be and why?
Hmm … that’s a really difficult question! My favourite artist hands down is Jean-Michel Basquiat so having the opportunity to share eight works by JMB with our audience is an absolute career highlight. There has also been some surprising and memorable works that having now seen them in person are truly extraordinary – keep an eye out for the larger-than-life portrait by George Condo of ‘Choo Choo’ the frisky feline from 1960s TV show ‘Top Cat’, and ‘Sixteen Jackies’ by Andy Warhol.

It’s such a big win for the Gold Coast to house works by artists like Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, a trio that embodies pop art. Who are some other pop art legends to look out for at the exhibition?
Tom Wesselmann was a contemporary of Andy Warhol and we have two beautiful works from his career defining series ‘The Great American Nude’. In terms of contemporary artists, Jeff Koons and Tom Sachs are both hugely influenced by Warhol and are represented by two great works. Katherine Bernhardt is a massive art star right now and her enormous painting ‘Giant Jungle Office’ featuring Sharpie pens, bananas and Windex speaks to the absolute essence of Pop – making the everyday extraordinary! 

We were particularly amazed by Damien Hirst’s piece ‘When They Were Down They Were Down’ (2007), which features more than 4500 pharmaceutical pills in a mirrored cabinet. How long did it take to reassemble this piece in the HOTA gallery?
This is an incredible work and it would be fair to say the gallery install team have a love/hate relationship with Damien Hirst! Each individual resin pill has a specific location and position within the cabinet. To ensure their safety and stability, each tablet was affixed with a pin-head-sized piece of museum wax (warmed by hand). All this fine work had to be completed while the team were looking at their reflection in the highly-polished mirror surface! It took about four days of two team members working in shifts. Then at the end of the exhibition the whole process has to happen in reverse!

There’s a range of pop art talks and curator tours on offer during the exhibition’s run, what’s one insider secret about the exhibition that you can share with us?
There are so many great programs associated with the exhibition – from a curated film program, Pop Talks with local artists, workshops and even ‘Poptails, a guided tour with one of the HOTA Curators together with a post-show Pop-themed cocktail at The Exhibitionist Bar. Don’t forget to download the Pop Masters playlists on Spotify – and bring your headphones to immerse yourself in music inspired by the artists, the exhibition and New York! 

HOTA has a nocturnal-friendly series coming up, where the gallery is staying Up Late on March 24 and May 19 so gallery-goers can discover art after dark and be transported to the streets of New York City. What can guests expect at these art-filled evenings?
In a HOTA Gallery first, you can discover art after dark as we bring Pop Masters: Art from the Mugrabi Collection, New York, to life. Inspired by sights and sounds of the pop art movement of the 80s, guest can expect an evening of disco, new wave, hip hop DJs, pop-up performance surprises, interactive workshops and delicious food and drinks that will transport you to the streets of Manhattan.  

To see the full program of Pop Art events coming to HOTA, head to the HOTA website.


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