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Patrons of art, design and culture

By Mariam Arcilla

Patrons have long played a pivotal role in the art world by influencing trends in art collecting and by championing the career longevity of iconic and emerging artists. Unbound by the bureaucracy of institution based collecting, patrons are empowered to acquire and commission art projects based upon passion, instinct, strategic investment and emotional connection. From entrepreneurs, philanthropists and donors—who in some cases practice art themselves—we reveal the figures whose remarkable benefaction continues to elevate the significance of art, design and architecture on a global scale.

Lightning Dreams: The Electrum at Gibbs Farm documentary (2011) ASKlabs Documentary Film 

Alan gibbs

Gibbs spent three decades collecting art prior to launching one of the world’s most prominent sculptural parks in 1991. The sculpture park is sprawled across his 1,000 acre Auckland property and exhibits works from over 22 artists, including Anish Kapoor and Richard Serra. The works are mostly site specific commissions, usually taking three to four years to develop and install, with Gibbs noting that “nearly everything here is the biggest artwork the artist has ever done”.

FRANÇOIS PINAULT

Once considered the most powerful man in the art world, the French businessman and Christie’s auction house owner is set to share his mammoth €1.2 billion collection with the public at Bourse de Commerce in 2018, a contribution described as “an immense gift to the heart of Paris” by Mayor Anne Hidalg. Pinault will oversee the Bourse in tandem with his two Venice museums Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana. As the former CEO of fashion conglomerate Kering, Pinault also owns online art collection platform The Pinault Collection Magazine, as well as an artist residency in France.

photo by Chesnot/Getty Images

photo by Peter Braig

JUDITH NEILSON

In 2009, South African graphic designer Judith Neilson and her then-husband Kerr Neilson, a billionaire funds manager, converted a Rolls-Royce factory in Sydney into White Rabbit Gallery. Housing over 1,000 artworks owned by Neilson, the site boasts the biggest stable of post 2000 contemporary Chinese art outside of China. A stones throw from White Rabbit lies Phoenix Gallery; a new project comprising of a performance space, exhibition space and sculpture garden, that will interlink visual and performance art.

JOHN KALDOR

Through Kaldor Public Art Projects, the Hungarian fabric dealer has devoted 45 years towards producing some of the most iconic art projects staged in Australia. His transformative 13 Rooms in 2013 turned little known Brisbane performance duo Clark Beaumont into art stars after casting them alongside artistic heavy weights Marina Abramovic and John Baldessari. Kaldor has bestowed over 200 works worth $35 million to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, recognised as one of the largest donations in the institution’s 140-year history.

photo by Don Arnold

photo courtesy of The Keir Foundation

PHILLIP KEIR

For the past 12 years the former Rolling Stones publisher has donated more than $250,000 to support cross-disciplinary synergies between artists, choreographers, producers and human rights organisations. In 2013 the Keir Foundation teamed up with Underbelly Arts to launch the first crowdfunding campaign of its kind in Australia. The campaign raised $16,500 towards new arts projects and earned the alliance a Creative Partnerships Program Award. Keir has also held roles as Associate Director of the Sydney Theatre Company and Chairman of the Biennale of Sydney.

DONALD AND MERA RUBELL

American husband and wife duo Donald and Mera Rubell are considered Miami art royalty. Their journey began shortly after their marriage in 1964 when they began collecting art, and played an intrinsic part in launching Art Basel Miami Beach in 2001. Through Donald’s brother—a Studio 54 co-owner—they were exposed to an art crowd that included young Jean-Michel Basquiat and Cindy Sherman. As a result, the Rubells focused on emerging artists, buying one artwork a week for several decades, eventually growing one of the biggest private contemporary art collections in North America.

photo by Rineke Dijkstra courtesy of the Rubell Family 

photo copyright 2016 T&C Film Zurich

ULI SIGG

Regarded as the world’s largest private collector of Chinese art, Uli Sigg gifted more than 1,500 pieces to the M+ museum, slated to open in Hong Kong in 2019. The Swiss diplomat also established the Chinese Contemporary Art Awards (CCAA) to honour artists’ achievements. One of the CCAA recipients, Zhou Tiehai, reflected on Sigg’s influence: “Chinese contemporary art would look very different if not for him and so would my life. I wouldn’t have been able to afford to buy a house without him collecting my works.”

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