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Mar 18 2019

Obituary: Edmund Capon (1940–2019)

by Pamela Wong

EDMUND CAPON has died, aged 78. Pictured: Capon with a calligraphy painting from his own collection in 1999. Photo by Jenni Carter / Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. Courtesy Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Edmund Capon, the noted art historian, curator, and former director of Sydney’s Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), has passed away in London at the age of 78. 

Born in the British capital in 1940, Capon obtained his Master of Philosophy in Chinese art and archaeology at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. In 1973, he joined the Victoria & Albert Museum as assistant keeper in the Far Eastern section, before emigrating to Australia in 1978 to take up his post as director of the AGNSW. Over his 33-year tenure there, he more than doubled its collection, establishing the AGNSW Foundation in 1983 to support the museum’s acquisitions program. He also led the institution through numerous expansions, extending the Bicentennial Wing in 1988; launching the Lower and Upper Asian galleries in 1990 and 2003, respectively; and, in 1994, inaugurating the Yiribana Gallery, the world’s largest permanent exhibition space dedicated to Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art at the time. Under his leadership, the AGNSW increased admissions by nearly four times, drawing more than 1.3 million visitors in 2010. After his departure from AGNSW, he served as chair of the board at Sydney’s 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art from 2014 to his death. 

A firm believer in making art more accessible to the public, Capon also wrote extensively on the topic, in addition to developing televised documentaries. In 1988, he wrote and presented a documentary titled Meishu: Travels in Chinese Art, co-produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and China Central Television. More recently, Capon presented the ABC/British Broadcasting Corporation co-production Art of Australia (2013), which examined the relationship between Australian art and national identity. His collection of essays, I Blame Duchamp: My Life’s Adventure in Artwas published in 2009 by Lantern/Penguin. 

For his service to the promotion of the arts, Capon received numerous state accolades, including appointments as Member of the Order of Australia in 1994, Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters from the French government in 2000, and Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2003.

Capon is survived by his wife, two children, and three stepchildren.

Pamela Wong is the assistant editor of ArtAsiaPacific.

To read more of ArtAsiaPacific’s articles, visit our Digital Library.

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