- Written by Hannah Van Der Velden -

There is an undeniable excitement associated with viewing part of a $35 million art collection, donated by Australia’s most well-known art collector and enthusiast, John Kaldor. Currently on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Seven Artists from the John Kaldor Family Collection is presented as seven solo exhibitions, highlighting Kaldor’s in-depth collections featuring some of the biggest names in contemporary art. 

Working alongside the artists, Kaldor curated each space of the Kaldor Family Gallery (a wing within AGNSW Contemporary Galleries), displaying his passion for minimalism and video art, with works by Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, Paul Chan, Michael Landy, Ugo Rondinone, Wilhelm Sasnal and Daniel von Sturmer. 

Now in his late 70s, Kaldor has been collecting for over fifty years and is the founder of Kaldor Public Art Projects. In 2011 Kaldor donated over 200 artworks worth $35 million to AGNSW, including works by Jeff Koons, Sol LeWitt and Ugo Rondinone to fill the newly built Contemporary Galleries. Raising the gallery profile, the donation was widely praised by the media and arts community as a welcome addition and bold contrast to the grand sandstone entrance, cramped burgundy walls and lavish golden frames of the colonial wing.

Seven Artists is a minimalist exhibition with provocative political undertones, introduced by Paul Chan in a dimly lit room displaying ten spotlighted, framed inkjet prints of constellations and galaxies.  With titles such as No Cruel and Unusual Punishment (formerly Perseus) (2005)and Freedom of Speech (formerly Centaurus) (2005), each work is named after vanishing democratic principles of the 21st Century.


Further questioning socio-cultural and political values of humanity, collaborative duo Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla’s video projection Documentation of Chalk encourages public engagement as participants write on the ground in Peru with large sticks of chalk, expressing personal thoughts and anxieties.  With four human-sized pieces of white chalk resting on the floor of the gallery and multiple “DO NOT TOUCH” signs, Kaldor teases the viewer, raising the unanswered questions why can’t viewers pick up the chalk and write on the gallery floor? What would viewers write?

Further prompting a phenomenological awareness of gallery space, Daniel von Sturmer’s innovative spatial design features angled video screens protruding from the walls and floor, and a glass window cut into the gallery wall, revealing a storeroom filled with broken cabinets, cardboard boxes and a spare lounge, causing viewers to become conscious of surveillance and their physical movements and thoughts. Many works in Kaldor’s exhibition explore themes of light and darkness, such as Ugo Rondinone’s giant gray and white lightbulbs suspended outside his exhibition space. A stark contrast is brought by Rondinone’s startling hyperrealist clown sculpture If There Were Anywhere Else But Desert (2000) and three large psychedelic paintings of brightly coloured concentric circles with titles such as: SIEBTERJULIZWEITAUSENDUNDNULL (2000). A clear crowd pleaser, Rondinone is a highly collectible artist and a major part of Kaldor’s collection, highlighting the exhibition’s pre-text. 

As an art-collecting icon, John Kaldor’s status informs the experience of the entire exhibition. At one point in his career, Kaldor carefully purchased each displayed work in order to form his multi-million dollar collection, causing an inescapable feeling that each artwork plays an important role in shaping the current art industry and future art history. This uncovers the inquisitive mind of the viewer, who questions what made this specific work appealing to Kaldor? What makes this work collectible? In this sense, the viewer subconsciously steps into Kaldor’s shoes, becoming the curator and collector, deconstructing and valuing works, mentally forming a personal art collection based on what they find appealing. 

Visually, the exhibition exudes minimalism and a high-end contemporary aesthetic, yet is centred on the notion of humanity, with strong socio-cultural and political influences. Seven Artists From the John Kaldor Family Collection is where art meets business. 

Seven Artists From the John Kaldor Family Collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, May 2015 - 26 April 2016.

- by Hannah Van Der Velden

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