Despite the challenges of 2020, Australian museums and galleries have continued to present major exhibitions of significant cultural material from around the world.
16 December 2020

This year Australia's cultural institutions have responded with great resilience to the public access challenges posed by bushfires and COVID-19. Despite many setbacks, leading museums and galleries have presented exhibitions of significant international arts and culture, as both in-person and online offerings. This has allowed Australians to continue to enjoy diverse and enriching cultural experiences.

The Australian Government's Protection of Cultural Objects on Loan (PCOL) scheme supports major exhibitions. The scheme provides legal protections for objects on loan from overseas lenders for temporary public display in Australia. Lenders are reassured that the borrowing institutions approved under the scheme meet best-practice standards in the management of exhibitions and loans. Twelve Australian institutions are currently approved to offer PCOL protections, and regularly attract high-quality international loans.

Institutions can also apply to offset the high costs of insuring international exhibitions through the Australian Government International Exhibitions Insurance (AGIEI) program. The program makes available approximately $2.4 million each year.

In 2019-20 the PCOL scheme protected objects imported for thirteen exhibitions at six venues across Australia, attracting a total of close to 1.5 million visitors. The AGIEI program supported two of these exhibitions: Matisse & Picasso at the National Gallery of Australia and Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines at the National Gallery of Victoria.

In the past year, significant exhibitions with loans protected by PCOL included:

Keith Haring/Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines at National Gallery of Victoria (NGV)

Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines was on show at the NGV from 1 December 2019 to 15 March 2020. The exhibition surveyed the careers of two of the most influential American contemporary artists of the late 20th century, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. It featured works from private collections and major international cultural institutions such as the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the Keith Haring Foundation.

Prior to its early closure due to COVID-19 shutdowns, the exhibition welcomed 126,621 visitors. The NGV also developed an immersive 3D virtual exhibition tour for online audiences. For more information please visit

Matisse & Picasso at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA)

Matisse & Picasso was on show at the NGA from 13 December 2019 to 13 April 2020. The exhibition explored the dynamic creative relationship between Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso across half a century. Works of art, including some never before seen in Australia, were loaned by private collectors and famous cultural institutions, such as the Musée Picasso in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Tate, London.

Despite enforced closures due to bushfire smoke and the onset of COVID-19, the exhibition received 66,585 visitors. For more information please visit

View from behind a female visitor who has long brown hair and is wearing a black and white patterned dress. She is viewing Henri Matisse's painting of the L'Enlèvement d'Europe [The abduction of Europa]. The painting is of a nude, reclining woman resting against the side of bull.
Credit: Henri Matisse, 1929, L'Enlèvement d'Europe [The abduction of Europa], Exhibition image from Matisse/Picasso courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia.

Endeavour Voyage: The Untold Stories of Cook and the First Australians at the National Museum of Australia (NMA)

Endeavour Voyage charts the journey of the HMB Endeavour along the east coast of Australia in 1770, from the perspective of the mariners and eight Indigenous communities on the shore. The exhibition is one of a range of activities funded by the Australian Government to mark the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook's first voyage to Australia and the Pacific.  Lenders to the exhibition include London's Natural History Museum and The Royal Geographical Society. To maximise public access, the NMA has made exhibition content available online, including the specially commissioned short film The Message—the Story from the Shore by filmmakers Alison Page and Nik Lachajczak.

In its first month, 12,297 people visited Endeavour Voyage. Countless others experienced the exhibition online. Endeavour Voyage will be on display at the NMA in Canberra, until 26 April 2021. For more information please visit

Three viewers sit in a dark room looking at a large cinema-style screen. On the screen is a still image from the short film 'The Message' featuring an Indigenous Australian man and woman wearing possum skin cloaks and looking out to sea.
Credit: Exhibition image from Endeavour Voyage: The Untold Stories of Cook and the First Australians, featuring a still from the short film The Message: The Story from the Shore, by Alison Page and Nik Lachajczak, on display at the National Museum of Australia until 26 April 2021.
Photo: George Serras, National Museum of Australia

Additional information about the Australian Government's PCOL scheme and AGIEI program is available at