A fine new space for a somewhat muddled collection

May 18, 2011
Photo: Edwina Pickles
Photo: Edwina Pickles

First impressions of the new galleries devoted to the John Kaldor Family Collection are all good. This vast, clean, well-lighted space is an ideal environment for showing large works of contemporary art.

It is unrecognisable from the rather shabby dungeon in which the bulk of the Art Gallery of NSW’s collection was previously stored. Not only are these rooms cleaner and brighter, they seem to have expanded.

Much has been written about the generosity of the gift, and a collection worth $35 million cannot be sneezed at. Neither should we undervalue the contribution of Morris Iemma’s state government, which spent more than $20 million building the gallery a new storage facility; or the Belgiorno-Nettis family, which gave $4 million towards the refurbishment of the space.

But when it comes to the collection itself, it is hard to imagine many people feeling as passionate about these works as John Kaldor and Naomi Milgrom Kaldor do. The Kaldors’ enthusiasm for video art, minimalism and conceptualism serves to distinguish them from a public forever attached to the most rudimentary styles of painting and sculpture.

There is a slightly clinical feeling about this collection, which incorporates disparate works by highly fashionable contemporary artists.

For instance, how can anyone be equally devoted to both Jeff Koons and Sol LeWitt – the first an avatar of high kitsch, the second the very opposite of kitsch? How do the frivolities of Richard Prince square with the ”significant blankness” of Carl Andre?

Many of these works, although bought for a private collection, give the impression they have always been waiting for a museum.

Such pieces probably find their real value in the games of social status that international collectors play with museums and leading art dealers.

With the opening of these elegant new galleries, the AGNSW has delivered the Kaldors a badge of distinction worth every bit of $35 million.

Published for The Sydney Morning Herald, May 18, 2011