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Inside the world of private art collectors

Art collectors from around the country let us in to their homes to see their private art collections, and discuss their favourite works, what they love about the art world, and, for most of them, how their “addiction” has seen them run out of wall space.

ANDREW TUCKFIELD, SYDNEY

Collector Andrew Tuckfield with <i>Cut Out 6</i> by Imi Knoebel and <i>Concrete Jungle</i> by Ah Xian (front).

Collector Andrew Tuckfield with Cut Out 6 by Imi Knoebel and Concrete Jungle by Ah Xian (front).Credit: Janie Barrett

“I don’t think you say, ‘I’m going to be an art collector’,” says Andrew Tuckfield, a medical specialist from Sydney with a significant art collection that he’s been building for 40 years.

“It doesn’t happen like that. I know it sounds like a cliche, but it is a journey. I had a partner in my mid-20s, and he was an artist. We would go to his openings and other openings at his gallery, and private and public galleries.”

At one such event, Tuckfield fell in love with a painting by Australian artist Nigel Thomson. “I just really responded to this work and wanted to own it. I certainly wasn’t flush with money and the work was $1800.”

He struck a deal with the gallerist to pay off the work over 12 months, and didn’t buy another piece until a year or so later. “Then perhaps a year later, another one, and then the year after that, something else. And now it’s been 40 years.”

Tuckfield with <i>Untitled (Inbetween Days)</i> by Tim Silver.

Tuckfield with Untitled (Inbetween Days) by Tim Silver.Credit: Janie Barrett

For Tuckfield, buying art is “not mercantile”. “I don’t buy to on-sell; I buy because I love. My responses are fairly visceral, and I just respond rather than analysing. I have never deaccessioned or sold anything I’ve ever bought. Nothing.”

He describes his collection as “eclectic”. “There’s realism, there’s hyperrealism, abstract, conceptual, Indigenous, two-dimensional, sculpture, indoor, outdoor. There’s a complete range.” Among his works are pieces by artists including Alex Seton, Fred Sandback, Sophie Muller, Ah Xian, Stephen Ralph and Tony Albert.

He visits private galleries and art fairs, where galleries from around the world are represented; he goes to the Venice Biennale occasionally, Hong Kong art fair and a couple in Germany.

He is, he concedes, running out of wall space in his inner-Sydney home, which was built with his art front of mind. “It was a warehouse-type space so when I did the conversion, I had on the drawings where things would hang,” he says. “And I put in an art storage room with racks so I can keep works in there that aren’t being hung at the moment.”

Lack of space is no deterrent. “You don’t just stop once the walls are filled up!”

But he still doesn’t describe himself as a collector. “I think that’s a term someone else applies to you,” he says. “I’d never say I’m Andrew, I’m a collector.”

Sophie Muller’s sculptural work <i>AL/LXVI/18</i>.

Sophie Muller’s sculptural work AL/LXVI/18.Credit: Janie Barrett

It’s hard, he says, to choose a favourite, but the piece, a three-dimensional work by Imi Knoebel, a German artist known for his minimalist abstract paintings and sculptures, is close.

“I saw the work, called Cut Up 6, in a catalogue when it was in a New Zealand gallery,” he says. “I responded to it but first I did a bit of research and some due diligence, but then I thought, I can’t buy it without seeing it. So I jumped on a plane, went to the gallery and walked in and within minutes I just knew straight away.”

As well as the works themselves, Tuckfield loves the art world (“the artists, the gallerists, the collectors; it’s a very intriguing little world”), and sees his collection as something of a diary. “Sometimes I’ll look at something I purchased 20 years ago and think, ‘Oh my god, Andrew, what were you thinking?’ And others I think, ‘I still love that to this day, that was a good one’,” he says.

Ultimately, he says, his collection is about pleasure: “I like being in my house and walking around and being in it.”

SANDRA POWELL AND ANDREW KING, MELBOURNE

Andrew King and Sandra Powell with just a small number of works in their street <a href=art collection.” loading=”lazy” src=”https://static.ffx.io/images/$zoom_0.189%2C$multiply_0.7725%2C$ratio_1.5%2C$width_756%2C$x_0%2C$y_0/t_crop_custom/q_86%2Cf_auto/e548445d345b41452aa0b74ab4eacb830656c384″ height=”390″ width=”584″ srcset=”https://static.ffx.io/images/$zoom_0.189%2C$multiply_0.7725%2C$ratio_1.5%2C$width_756%2C$x_0%2C$y_0/t_crop_custom/q_86%2Cf_auto/e548445d345b41452aa0b74ab4eacb830656c384, https://static.ffx.io/images/$zoom_0.189%2C$multiply_1.545%2C$ratio_1.5%2C$width_756%2C$x_0%2C$y_0/t_crop_custom/q_62%2Cf_auto/e548445d345b41452aa0b74ab4eacb830656c384 2x”/>

Andrew King and Sandra Powell with just a small number of works in their street art collection.Credit: Paul Jeffers

Before you even set foot inside their front door, works from the extraordinary collection of Sandra Powell and Andrew King are on display; these are artworks that are safe out in the weather. Their home is home to hundreds of pieces of street art.

“And there are thousands in storage,” says Powell, as she shows me around, pointing out a procession of repurposed junk sculptures by Melbourne artist Junky Projects, huge, dream-like cut-out pieces by American female artist Swoon, a Warhol and an entire room she simply calls “the Banksy room”.

Their walls once hosted a very different type of collection though, until the pair had an epiphany around 2008. “We’d been collecting Australian modernist art – Sidney Nolan, Clarice Beckett, Joy Hester – for about 20 years,” says Powell,

They ran a fashion accessory business that regularly took them overseas, and kept them plugged into new, younger trends. “We’d go to New York Paris, London – all the places that were big in street art.”

On one trip, Andrew bought a couple of books about street art, one of Banksy’s and another on French stencil pioneer Blek le Rat, and was chuckling while reading them. Powell asked what he was laughing about. “I showed her the books and that day our lives changed forever,” says King. “We went to New York next and we were like, forget work, let’s check out some graffiti!”

Powell and King’s “Banksy room”.

Powell and King’s “Banksy room”.Credit: Paul Jeffers

There they met people who talked about Melbourne’s street art scene, and when they got back they undertook some research. Soon they sold their modernist collection so they could start buying street art; they were both drawn to the irreverence of the genre.

“It’s anti-authoritarian, and it’s social commentary – they don’t give a shit,” says King. “What’s not to like?”

They met the members of the Melbourne graffiti crew Everfresh after Powell set out to buy some of Rone’s work – long before he was the huge figure he is today. They visited the studio he shared with other artists, and found many of them baffled they wanted to buy their art.

“They were wondering, who are these old people? They were very wary of me,” says King. “I found out later they thought I was an undercover cop!”

Since then, they have become patrons of the scene, helping artists stage shows and financing projects, and even putting them up in a studio at the back of their house.

“We work with artists when they have a project, or when they need some help in some way,” says Powell; when Swoon needed money for a charity project, Powell and King would buy another one of her works. They now have the biggest collection of Swoon’s works in the world.

A mural in Sandra and Andrew’s garden by Rone, one of many of his works the couple owns.

A mural in Sandra and Andrew’s garden by Rone, one of many of his works the couple owns.Credit: Paul Jeffers

Other artists in their collection – which covers every wall, surface, and even extends to their back garden, where Rone has painted a mural – include international artists such as le Rat, New York artist Ron English, American graffiti artist Barry McGee and anonymous French street artist Invader, and dozens of local names including HA-HA, Lister, Adnate, Lush and Makatron. The pair consider themselves custodians of the local scene.

“We’ve got a lot of very early Australian graffiti and street art in storage, which, maybe the day hasn’t come yet, but at some point will tell the history of the scene,” says Powell.

The day we meet, King has just bought a work by Melbourne graffiti artist Sync. “It’s a beautiful piece,” he says. “And Sync has been a member of the Everfresh crew since 2003, so in our movement that is like getting a 16th-century work!”

ROB AND PATRICIA POSTEMA, SYDNEY

Rob and Patricia Postema with their Sam jinks sculpture, <i>Carcass Bearer</i>.

Rob and Patricia Postema with their Sam jinks sculpture, Carcass Bearer.Credit: Wolter Peeters

When I click on the Zoom link to talk to Rob and Patricia Postema, I’m initially startled by a semi-naked man in the background. It’s one of the more confronting pieces in their collection: a life-size sculpture of a man hauling a skinned lamb on his shoulders, it’s Carcass Bearer, by Sam Jinks. Surely a challenging piece to have in one’s living area?

“Not for us,” says Patricia. Her husband Rob says countless people who see it have said that not only is it challenging, they wouldn’t have it in their house.

Rob, a retired lawyer and Patricia, a medical practitioner, have been buying art since they were first married and “progressed from the poor student phase where we bought posters”. “It just grew from there, as all true addictions do,” says Patricia.

Initially they were buying artists such as Arthur Boyd, but soon discovered a shared love of contemporary art, beginning with the sculptor Alex Seton, who works primarily with marble. They have no broad theme now apart from contemporary, “anything from the last decade”, says Rob.

Among the works on their walls – and most other surfaces of their house – are pieces by Japanese-born sculptor Hiromi Tango, Indigenous artists Naminapu Maymuru-White, Kyra Mancktelow and Tony Albert, stencil artist Luke Cornish (aka E.L.K), and multimedia artist Shaun Gladwell. (Smaller works are encased in perspex to protect them from their cat). “We like works that either have something to say, or say it in a different way,” says Rob.

Rob and Patricia Postema’s living room with Tony Albert’s stained glass work <i>Brothers (The Prodigal Son).

Rob and Patricia Postema’s living room with Tony Albert’s stained glass work Brothers (The Prodigal Son).Credit: Wolter Peeters

“We don’t go out to find artists that have strong political messages, but contemporary art does comment on the here and now, so what’s happening in society is going to be reflected in the artists’ works,” adds Patricia. “We’re not afraid of works that are strong; we can tolerate a lot of tension that would generate. Not everyone would.”

Many don’t share their passion for certain contemporary art movements, either – they have collected almost 20 video works and five NFTs, including one by Damien Hirst and another by the Russian art collective AES+F.

“It’s interesting – people have a real issue (with NFTs) and they don’t understand why you would buy one,” says Rob. “But we like them. Although it is a very niche part of our collection.”

“People say, it’s kitsch or it’s not art, but it’s like street art, it’s its own genre,” adds Patricia. “And if it’s good enough for Damien Hirst!”

Their video art collection, which includes works by Tony Albert, Daniel Crooks and Angela Tiatia, is only on display when they have people over.

“We’ve displayed them outside, projected onto our back wall, and they come up brilliantly when you do it that way,” says Rob. When they’re not on display (being housed on a memory stick) they at least leave more room for other works. The pair are rapidly running out of space, says Patricia; their adult daughters’ former bedrooms, Patricia’s office and even their walk-in wardrobe have been annexed .

Sam Jinks’ <i>Small Things</>.

Sam Jinks’ Small Things>.Credit: Wolter Peeters

The like to share their collection though – they regularly lend to galleries, “particularly the regional galleries, who really rely on private collectors for exhibitions”, says Patricia “or if an artist wants a work for their show; I think it’s disrespectful to say no to the artist, as it’s a privilege to have their works”.

They also have small groups view their collection through events such as Sydney Contemporary.

“We subscribe to the theory that it’s great to have it and to be able to look at it ourselves,” says Robert, “but in a way, it’s a shame that other people can’t enjoy it as well.”

RACHAEL HART – MELBOURNE

Rachael Hart with a work by Indigenous artist Marcus Camphoo in her dining room.

Rachael Hart with a work by Indigenous artist Marcus Camphoo in her dining room.Credit: Patrick Fitzgerald

At 39, Melbourne creative management company director Rachael Hart is at the younger end of the art collector world, but she and her husband Patrick Fitzgerald have been slowly building their collection for around 20 years.

While most of their works are from contemporary artists, they also have a few mid-century artists, such as Jasper Johns, and Hart says they “don’t follow any sort of theme”.

“We’ve been lucky with some of our pieces, but we don’t collect for collecting’s sake, we collect because we like the work,” she says. “We don’t collect for investment, although some have turned into that, coincidentally.”

Unsurprisingly, given her job working with artists, Hart has many photographic works, some from artists she represents – such as award-winning Melbourne photographer Liz Looker, and Mark Roper – and others including Polly Borland and wartime photographer Stephen Dupont.

Works in Rachael Hart’s home include a piece by mid-century artist Jasper Johns and (bottom left) a sculpture by Melbourne artist Jarrah De Kuijer.

Works in Rachael Hart’s home include a piece by mid-century artist Jasper Johns and (bottom left) a sculpture by Melbourne artist Jarrah De Kuijer.Credit: Patrick Fitzgerald

The first piece they bought together was a large-scale painting by Michael Georgetti. “It was a big investment at the time, but we just fell in love with it. We all have different opinions on what it is and I don’t think there was an artist statement with it – although we were so young when we bought it we probably didn’t know what an artist statement was!” (Hart’s children also love the abstract piece, and when her son was younger, added “a bit of pencil” to the work. “Thankfully it blended right in,” says Hart.)

Other works include pieces by New Zealand artist Tom Mackie, Scottish-born, Sydney-based artist Joan Ross and Australian artist David Noonan.

“A recent purchase was a work by Helen Johnson,” says Hart, “She’s one of those artists whose work is more known overseas than here. Her larger works are selling for hundreds of thousands in the US, and we barely recognise her here. David Noonan is another one who is bigger in the UK than here.”

They also have several Banksy prints, and some KAWS sculptures and an Ai Weiwei edition.

Hart says they collect from galleries, occasionally guided by her good friend and arts lawyer and consultant Alana Kushnir, and from art fairs, such as Sydney Contemporary.

After a recent trip travelling around Australia for four months, the’ve also added new Indigenous artworks to their collection; they have paintings by Marcus Camphoo Kemarre and Mia Boe, and on their road trip bought a repurposed satellite dish painted by Alyawarr woman Janet Thompson, through Barkly Regional Arts.

Hart with a painted satellite dish by Alyawarr woman Janet Thompson.

Hart with a painted satellite dish by Alyawarr woman Janet Thompson.
Credit: Patrick Fitzgerald

A couple of other recent acquisitions came after Hart and her husband had the exterior of their house painted by a company called Flys Alone Painting, run by established artists Lane Cormick and Jarrah De Kuijer.

“They were on site for six weeks, so we became close friends and are still in contact,” says Hart. “And we are lucky to now have work in the collection from each of them!” Cormick’s work Sampras 2020-23 will be heading to their house soon; it’s been part of NGV’s Melbourne Now for the past several months.

Hart concedes adding to their collection can be somewhat addictive, although “we don’t really consider ourselves collectors”.

“We go through phases as well,” she says. “We’ll buy a key piece once every couple of years, and then we’ll just buy smaller bits and pieces. We thought we had a lot of wall space when we moved in, but it’s slowly getting filled up. Although we won’t stop buying art.”

NEIL HOBBS AND KARINA HARRIS, CANBERRA

Neil Hobbs and Karina Harris in their <a href=living room.” loading=”lazy” src=”https://static.ffx.io/images/$zoom_0.151%2C$multiply_0.7725%2C$ratio_1.5%2C$width_756%2C$x_1%2C$y_0/t_crop_custom/q_86%2Cf_auto/ea16a0c2244b1cdb784ff76391f1f6ebb6856af4″ height=”390″ width=”584″ srcset=”https://static.ffx.io/images/$zoom_0.151%2C$multiply_0.7725%2C$ratio_1.5%2C$width_756%2C$x_1%2C$y_0/t_crop_custom/q_86%2Cf_auto/ea16a0c2244b1cdb784ff76391f1f6ebb6856af4, https://static.ffx.io/images/$zoom_0.151%2C$multiply_1.545%2C$ratio_1.5%2C$width_756%2C$x_1%2C$y_0/t_crop_custom/q_62%2Cf_auto/ea16a0c2244b1cdb784ff76391f1f6ebb6856af4 2x”/>

Neil Hobbs and Karina Harris in their living room.Credit: Martin Ollman

Neil Hobbs and Karina Harris have so much art that they’ve even colonised the ceiling – a large-scale abstract work by Trevelyan Clay hangs above their Canberra living room.

“We’ve run out of space now,” says Harris of their house, which has art hanging from the floor to the ceiling, as well as on every shelf, sideboard and table.

“And that’s everywhere, in every room,” adds Hobbs. Even the bathroom, which doesn’t seem like a place conducive to preserving art?

“The bathroom is actually good, as it has no natural light,” says Hobbs. “Oil paintings or sculpture works and ceramics are OK – it’s only works on paper that would be a problem in there.”

When they’re not working together in their landscape architecture firm, Hobbs and Harris like to travel to art fairs around the world, adding to their collection, which they began to amass in the 1980s. They love everything about the art world, and tend to have met most of the artists whose work they buy.

Hobbs has spent much of his life around art; his late father Michael Hobbs OAM was a well-known Sydney collector, philanthropist and founding board member and benefactor of Sydney’s Artspace.

The footpath outside Hobbs’ and Harris’ Canberra home.

The footpath outside Hobbs’ and Harris’ Canberra home.Credit: Martin Ollman

“When I was about seven, I’d been playing a lot of sport,” says Neil. “He said, ‘We don’t really like sport, do we?’ Because on Saturday afternoons he liked going to art galleries instead.”

Hobbs soon swapped sport for accompanying his father to galleries around Paddington on Saturdays.

They have a few works from his father, but most of their collection is contemporary.

Among the estimated 1000 works in their house are pieces from artists including Greg Hodge, Karla Dickens, Kate Tucker, Wilma Tabacco, Abdul Abdullah, Jake Walker, Paul Yore, Mitch Cairns, Oscar Perry, Tony Albert, Gunybi Ganambarr – and the list goes on. The couple describe their taste as eclectic.

“We just look for things we like,” says Harris.

“We have lots of text-based work, and lots of graphic and lots of colour work but also lots of representational, figurative work as well,” adds Hobbs. “It’s just what we like and also we can’t really say what, on any given day, is our favourite.”

They also have outdoor sculpture works in their garden.“That really started when we ran out of space in the house,” says Harris.

The pair often lend works out to institutions and galleries, which frees up space for a time – but an empty space doesn’t last long.

“We had a huge work that went for nine months to a gallery and that left an enormous hole – so naturally we had to fill it,” says Harris. “So we bought another big work and then we hung that, but the other work came back, so then we had to build an extension, to put the first one back. Yes, we are that crazy.”

Between loaning out works, acquiring new ones and “at least four or five emails every day” about art fairs and exhibitions, their hobby almost sounds like a full-time job.

“But a very enjoyable one,” says Harris. “We just love it. One thing that’s really nice about it is when you wander around the house with a glass of wine, we’ll remember where we were when we look at the works. It might be something from last year, or 15 or 30 years ago, but we remember where we were, and that’s really lovely.”

LOUIS LI, MELBOURNE

 Louis Li with his installation Rain Room.

Louis Li with his installation Rain Room.Credit: Kristoffer Paulsen

Louis Li, owner of the Jackalope Hotel on the Mornington Peninsula, is best known for bringing the phenomenally popular experiential artwork Rain Room, by artists Hannes Koch and Florian Ortkrass, to Australia.

It’s fair to say his art collection, known as the Jackalope Art Collection, is a little different to many.

“I consider it a private collection,” says Li, “we’re not an institution. It’s similar to the White Rabbit model. I like to find opportunities to showcase my works in my properties or institutional contexts.”

Many of the works are on display at the Jackalope Hotel – most notably the specially commissioned seven-metre monumental sculpture of the hotel’s namesake – but one of Li’s favourite works, a recent acquisition, is Del Kathryn Barton’s The Women Who Fell To Earth, which hangs in his office.

“She’s one of my favourite Australian artists,” Li says. “I think the highly detailed painting skills and the time consumption is just amazing. I’ve always wanted a Del Kathryn Barton in my collection, and this is perfect – it’s so euphoric and emotional.”

Li, who moved to Australia from China in 2007 to study filmmaking, has always loved art, and is drawn to works that explore mysticism.

“My curatorial framework is occultism and metaphysics. That’s why I named my hotel Jackalope, which is from mythology,” he says. “I always liked things with mysticism, or a little bit of darkness.”

Hernan Bas, <i>Conceptual artist #24</i>, is one of Li’s favourite works.

Hernan Bas, Conceptual artist #24, is one of Li’s favourite works.

Another recent addition to his collection is a video work from New Zealand-born artist Daniel Crooks, a two-channel work called Phantom Ride.

“I think this is one of his significant video works, and he’s been collected by ACMI.”

The work explores the linear nature of time and is, says Li, “mesmerising”.

“It explores how we travel through time and space through the old network between New South Wales and Victoria. It’s two screens so you see the precise point of the future and the past and present in front of you – it’s a really beautiful work.”

Other works in the collection include pieces from Tracey Emin, Rolf Sachs, Rick Owens and Tatsuo Miyajima.

Li has Del Kathryn Barton’s <i>The Women Who Fell To Earth</i> hanging in his office.

Li has Del Kathryn Barton’s The Women Who Fell To Earth hanging in his office.

Another favourite of Li’s is a painting by Hernan Bas, Conceptual artist #24, which he has loaned to a museum in Miami.

“Hernan is my absolute favourite painter,” he says of the American artist, best known for highly detailed figurative works.

“I love his storytelling and the works are very imaginative … It’s very hard to secure one of his paintings, and he’s been collected by all the major institutions.”

Li travels widely to art fairs around the world, and while he is drawn to internationally known artists – he can’t disclose what he paid for Rain Room, but concedes it was “a lot” – he doesn’t buy works for investments.

“I don’t consider the financial side, it’s all about emotional resonance,” he says. “I have to resonate with the work. That’s the value of the collection – it gives me joy.”

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