When the Opera House opened in 1973, his spectacular colourful abstract Curtain of the Sun for the Opera Theatre (now the Joan Sutherland Theatre) and the Curtain of the Moon for the Drama Theatre were an instant hit with the general public.
They weren’t as popular with the various performing groups who used the theatre so they were soon temporarily removed and within a decade they had been decommissioned.
Sadly, the tapestries are fabulous for being hung statically on a wall but are less robust when used as curtains. They have suffered from the process and were covered in oil from the mechanisms and various other battle scars from life on the stage. They have since been restored but remain in storage. They were temporarily rehung in tribute when Coburn died in 2006.
They were also temporarily placed in situ last year, I was lucky enough to see them and was completely taken aback. Despite being over 50 years old, the colours are still vivid and vibrant, all that time in the dark theatres has been kind to them. Utzon’s original vision for the theatres was to have explosions of colour before a performance and they do that in spades and more. I wasn’t the only one in awe during the viewing, audible gasps were let out all around me because they are magnificent and have a visceral pull that’s difficult to describe. I think part of their appeal is that Coburn’s work references the Australian landscape which helps anchor the interiors of the Opera House to place.