Incognito: Rebecca Evans, Curator – Art Gallery of South Australia

As the Curator of European and Australian Decorative Arts at the Art Gallery of South Australia, Rebecca Joy Evans is responsible for spearheading the hotly anticipated Paolo Sebastian X exhibition. A celebration of 10 years of couture and pure magic, which reads nothing short of a fairytale for the Adelaide based label.

Working closely with designer Paul Vasileff and Adelaide Fashion Festival Creative Director Chris Kontos, Rebecca has been working tirelessly behind the scenes to bring the fairytale to life with a retrospective look back at some of the Vasileff’s most pivotal designs.

Having built a resume on acquiring some of the most notable dresses in fashion history, from a 1957 evening dress by Christian Dior to more local heroes such as Toni Maticevski, Evan’s love for design and
fashion has signaled an exciting relationship between the AFF and the museum. It recognises the role fashion plays in narrating history and the richness it adds to South Australia’s already vibrant cultural fabric.

We went behind the scenes with the captivating Evans to talk all things art, fashion and what it means to work as a curator ahead of the Paolo Sebastian: X exhibition.

Where did you study or first gain your experience?
I’ve always loved history and fashion. From a young age I bought Vogue magazine with my pocket money pouring over the work of John Galliano, Karl Lagerfield and Alber Elbaz. I remember thinking the designers featured on the pages of Vogue were true artists and the fantasy they created through their designs was intoxicating.

When I left high school, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with my life. So I went onto to university to study the subjects I loved- visual arts and history At the same time I volunteered in a tiny regional museum on the South Coast of NSW where I became acquainted with a small but extraordinary collection of historic Australian fashion. I fell in love with this collection and completed a research project with the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney. Through this collection I began to learn about the history of western fashion, which has captivated me ever since. I’ve been lucky enough to turn this passion into a curatorial career.

Why an Art Curator?
As a curator I get to work with and support the careers of some of the most exciting contemporary artists and designers in Australia and the world! It’s a fast-pace exciting job and I love (nearly) every minute of it.

Where did you begin your career?
I began my career as a contract Assistant Curator of Decorative Arts and Design specialising in fashion and textiles at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney. In this role I worked on a number of fashion exhibitions and projects and it provided me with a wonderful foundation to my career working with a talented curatorial team and remarkable fashion and textile collection.

What attracted you to the Art Gallery of SA?
When the role was advertised in late 2015 I was looking for a new challenge. I had admired the work of the Art Gallery of South Australia for many years and was keen to be involved. The Director, Nick Mitzevich has an innovative curatorial approach to the Gallery’s collection and I wanted to part of it. The Gallery had also just shown the Fashion Icons exhibition and I could see there was space to grow a fashion collection and present further fashion exhibitions in SA.

Please describe your current role:
As the Curator of European and Australian Decorative Arts I am responsible for the Gallery’s collection of glass, ceramics, furniture, metalwork, jewellery, fashion and textiles, antiquity to contemporary. My role includes research, exhibition development and sourcing new acquisitions. Any given day I could be presenting a talk or a lecture, meeting with an artist or designer, attend an exhibition opening and judging an art prize… It a very varied role!

What is the most challenging part of your role and how do you address this?
The most challenging part of my role is finding money for acquisitions and projects. I am super excited to be partnering with The Adelaide Fashion Festival and Yalumba Family Vignerons on Paolo Sebastian: X. I wouldn’t be able to do this without their support!

In October we are also launching the Gallery’s Fashion Fund fund the purchase of exciting and innovative examples of international and Australian fashion.

We will announce the 2017 international acquisition in October this year and we are hoping to get support to buy a Paolo Sebastian gown this year as well.


How did the collaboration with Paolo Sebastian come about?
It came about during a coffee catch-up with Chris Kontos, Creative Director of the Adelaide Fashion Festival. We decided that we needed to collaborate on a project and came up with the idea of a fashion exhibition celebrating 10 years of Paolo Sebastian. It’s been an absolute delight working with Chris on this exhibition – he really is helping to change the face of the fashion industry in this state!

Can you talk us through the process of selecting pieces from such an extensive range?
The process involves multiple gallery walk throughs and visits to the Paolo Sebastian atelier with the core exhibition team. This includes Chris Kontos, Adelaide Fashion Festival and Kristy Langdon and Chloe Reschke-Maguire from the Pop-Up Co. It’s a complex process that includes LOTS of discussion! We want to capture all aspects of the Paolo Sebastian brand and link the works with the Gallery’s collection of
European collection.

What is the process of selecting a piece for the archives?
When something is acquired into the Gallery’s collection it is acquired permanently, so much thought and consideration is required by the acquiring curator. I have selected a gown from the Paolo Sebastian archive for the Art Gallery of South Australia’s collection. This gown marks a turning point in the career of Paul Vasileff, both in its inspiration and design.

What can people except from the Paolo Sebastian exhibition?
The exhibition will features a series of dramatic installations of Paolo Sebastian gowns in the Gallery’s European collection. You will see previous runways re-created, pairings of gowns with Art Gallery collection works and pieces from the recent Autumn/Winter 2017/2018 Reverie collection shown at Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week in Paris last July.

What are you looking forward to Paolo Sebastian– X, the unveiling?
It will be the most glamorous event in Adelaide this year! Not to be missed. I’m looking forward to showing the exhibition to visitors for the first time and frocking up for this fabulous event.

Why should people come?
People should come to be the very first to experience Paolo Sebastian: X !

How is your role evolving and what is driving this change?
Social media plays a big part in my role. Showing my day to day work life through platforms such as Instagram is an important way to promote the Gallery and the work of artists and designers. I think there’s an appetite from the public to know more about the behind the scenes of the Art Gallery of South Australia and the intriguing role of the curator.

What advice do you have for others wanting to follow your career path?
Volunteer in the industry, whether that’s at an art gallery, the Adelaide Fashion festival or for a small regional museum, the experience will be invaluable!

Photography by Jack Fenby.