The Power Trip 2015: The 50 Most Powerful People in Australian Art

Art Life , Stuff Dec 12, 2014 16 Comments

Returning for its third year, The Power Trip lists the most powerful people in Australian art: it reflects not the art world we want, but the art world as it is…

So how do we come up with the names and their ranking for the Power Trip? There are three kinds of power: there’s money and influence of the kind held by philanthropists, super collectors and major gallery directors; then there’s the administrative power of curators, bureaucrats and lower echelon collectors and gallery people; and then there’s the illusion of power conjured out of nothing by people with a public profile, an axe to grind and soapbox to yell it to the world. We choose the most prominent people who represent those types of power, look at their activities in the past year, then cut open a chicken, then examine its entrails to deduce their importance in the coming year. It’s all very scientific.

In the year since our last list there’s been a lot of movement. As we’ve noted before, curators come and go depending on their latest projects, often years in the making. Russell Storer, who made his debut on this last last year at 30, is off the list completely after the curator left QAG-GOMA for Singapore, while others have jumped into the list for the first time and taken a few new places, pushing others up and down.

The biggest shakeup of the list came after the controversy and fall out from the 2014 Biennale of Sydney. The qualities and value of the show itself were pretty much forgotten as protests over links between the Biennale, its principle sponsor and chairman of the board and a company appointed to manage security for the Federal Government’s offshore detention centres devolved into a messy battle for control, first of the board, then a political power grab by the Federal Minister for the Arts. In the end, ex-Chairman, principal donor and founding patron of the Biennale, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis resigned from the BOS board, but he well may be back – and back on the list on the very near future. Based on a recent report by Steve Dow in The Guardian it seems likely that, although no money has yet been pledged, the Belgiorno-Nettis family may have some future involvement with Biennale – doubtless leaving Transfield Holdings right out of the picture. In Canberra, George Brandis is smiling quietly…

There were a number of other big changes in the list – old media down, new media up, new regional players – the rich tapestry of the Australian art world.

And we can already hear you – where are the artists? Let’s just repeat our mantra: the list reflects not the art world we want, but the art world as it is.

Power Trip 2015

50. Wendy Whiteley NEW

“Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown…”

49. Karen Quinlan NEW

Karen Quinlan’s directorship of the Bendigo Art Gallery has produced what The Age dubbed “the Bendigo effect” – where a regional art gallery hosts major international shows that have bypassed the capital cities, attracting tens of thousands of visitors and generating millions in tourist dollars. With shows in just the past year including Genius and Ambition: The Royal Academy of Arts, London 1768-1918 courtesy of the Royal Academy, London, Undressed: 350 Years of Underwear in Fashion and The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece, Quinlan’s 14 years at the gallery are hard to match for vision and influence. And with the opening in March 2014 of the gallery’s $8.5 million extension, the Quinlan effect is still much in evidence.

48. Marcus Westbury LY 19 | – 29

In what might appear to be the “year of living quietly” Marcus Westbury has been working away out of the spotlight on a new three part series on maker culture to be screened on ABC1 in 2015, his yet-to-be-released book on creative cities [in its final draft] all the while re-helping to re-save Renew Newcastle with a $30k grant from the Newcastle Council [albeit $270,000 short of the actual amount needed]. Quiet? Hardly.

47. Eleonora Triguboff LY 22 | – 25

With the publication of the last issue of the bi-annual and rebranded ARTAND [otherwise known as Art & Australia], the one time journal of record of the Australian art world was suddenly no more, at least on paper. In October 2014, Eleonora Triguboff told veteran art reporter Elizabeth Fortescue that the next newsstand issue would appear December 2014, and then appear again in mid-2015, but then only online. Following a restructure of the business, A&A plans to publish art books in its continuing series of single artist monographs – and perhaps a yearbook of essays. While Triguboff could rightly claim influence via her trusteeship at the Art Gallery of NSW, actual power has been spectacularly diminished over the last year. As to the future of ARTAND itself…

46. Susi Muddiman LY 46 | –

Recreating an artist’s home and studio many hundreds of kilometers from its original location might seem like a bizarre prospect, but the huge popularity of Tweed River Gallery’s Margaret Olley Art Centre has further established both the gallery as a tourist destination, as well as Susi Muddiman’s tenure as TRG director. While the MOAS might be helping the gallery break all attendance records, it’s the mix of shows by locals [Katka Adams], near neighbours [Deb Mostert] and artfully selected touring shows [Euan McLeod, Philip Wolfhagen] that keep the visitors coming back.

45. Kent Buchanan LY 44 | -1

Kent Buchanan’s tenure as a the curator of the Dubbo Regional Gallery – ensconced amidst the Western Plains Cultural Centre – has been marked by a calendar of excellent locally produced shows alongside touring crowd-pleasers. While we’ve noted Buchanan on this list before, the thing that keeps him here, beyond the gallery’s shows, is their social media reach: while some might just consider the DRGs website a creditable effort, not too many regional galleries actually recognise the value of a web presence beyond a home page, and adding in the DRGs email newsletter, Twitter account and its Facebook presence makes it best practice.

44. Sullivan & Strumpf LY 41 | -3

The last year for Zetland’s most famous gallerist duo has seen some stand out shows by gallery artists including Tony Albert’s We Come In Peace, Hiromi Tango’s Promised, Karen Black’s Dust Over Aleppo and the final show of the year, Syd Ball’s Infinex III. Unlike a number of their peers, Ursula Sullivan and Joanna Strumpf also succeeded in making their stall at the Melbourne Art Fair a commercial success. So how does all that come together – and how does that equal power? Same things really: an eye for good art that’s going to sell, a willingness to take risks, dedication to their artists, and staying power.

43. Danie Mellor LY 42 | -1

In January the large and enthusiastic opening crowd at the University of Queensland Art Museum for Danie Mellor’s survey show Exotic Lies Sacred Ties appeared pretty excited with the result, while Louise Martin-Chew even went so far as to anoint Mellor with rock star status in her review for Art Guide. From August until November, Mellor’s large-scale works on paper were exhibited in Primordial: SuperNaturalBayiMinyjirral at the National Museum of Scotland. What could go wrong? Well, nothing really. Mellor may have slipped one place in the list but that’s neither here or there. He’s still super powerful behind the scenes as Chairman of the Visual Arts Sector Panel at the Australia Council for the Arts doling out funds and wielding influence in the Government grant sector. Bonus points for the arty suit he paraded at Sydney’s recent NAVA Summit.

42. Ken and Lisa Fehily NEW

Making its debut at the 2010 Melbourne Art Fair, Fehily Contemporary is only one of the many art related activities of husband and wife team Ken and Lisa Fehily. They’re not only dedicated gallerists and collectors but also operate at the highest echelon of Australia’s art world – Ken was formerly a board member of the Melbourne Art Foundation and sports two notorious tattoos – on one arm is MR GST [being the man who wrote the GST legislation for the Howard Government] and on the other is MR ART. How’s that for dedication? The Fehilys make their debut on this list for their combined activities but more importantly for the maturing of their gallery – primarily directed by Lisa – being both a statement against art world recession with its massive exhibition spaces, and for the artists they represent, a diverse stable that includes Abdul Abdullah, Robert Hague, Sonia Leber and David Chesworth, Kate Shaw and Gosia Wlodarczak. This is what the future of the Australian art world looks like.

41. Michael Zavros & Alison Kubler LY 43 | +2

Being one of the few Australian artist that perennial Internet pest Scott Redford likes isn’t a bad feather in the cap of Michael Zavros, and while that’s a notable achievement in itself, no one quite does self conscious excess like Zavros: his show stopping performance at the 2014 Melbourne Art Fair featuring a Rolls Royce Ghost, twin male models and the artist in a tuxes handing out gold coins was one part piss take, one part Casino Royale. Meanwhile, Alison Kubler’s authority on the meeting of fashion and art remains formidable. Together, Zavros and Kubler are like the perfect made up couple.

40. Philip Bacon LY 36 | -4

The depressing reality of the commercial gallery scene has started to be felt in Brisbane with the recent announcement of the closure of the Ryan Renshaw gallery. Meanwhile, Philip Bacon presides over one of the longest running galleries in the city with an exhibition space that’s all sorts of fancy. Bacon meanwhile continues his association with Susi Muddiman’s Tweed River Art Gallery and his donation of 143 unfinished Margaret Olley ‘ghost’ paintings to the regional gallery’s collection. This Bacon aint fried just yet.

39. Vasili Kaliman LY 47 | + 8

Due to his somewhat risky (and cheeky?) move to hold an alternative art fair simultaneously with the Melbourne Art Fair, Kaliman moves up a few places when that innovative plan resulted in the Spring 1883 Art Fair. Just a stone’s throw from the major event at the Royal Exhibition Building, the art was displayed in individual hotel rooms in the slightly faded grandeur of Melbourne’s Windsor Hotel. The idea was to give fair goers the feeing of how the art might look in their bedrooms or lounge room, or (in Ronnie van Hout’s case) lying in the bathtub of their homes. With twenty galleries coming on board for the inaugural Spring 1883, some of the big names such as Sydney’s Roslyn Oxley opted to show at both sites. The event itself was almost unanimously hailed a success – not only by Kaliman himself, but also by critics and punters alike.

38. Victoria Lynn NEW

When Victoria Lynn was appointed the director of the TarraWarra Museum of Art it wasn’t her first engagement with the picturesque gallery – in 2006 she’d been the curator of that year’s TarraWarra Biennial Parallel Lives: Australian Painting Today – but when she returned in 2012 she brought with her an even more impressive CV of curatorial projects that covered everything from ‘traditional’ arts to new media in high-profile curatorial projects around Australia and overseas. Under Lynn’s direction the gallery has grown in reputation too, staging some impressive world-class exhibitions and attracting the best of Australia’s curatorial talent.

37. Tamara Winikoff LY 37 | –

Ok, so last year’s launch of the National Arts Agenda fell on the deaf ears of a Federal Arts Minister with little apparent interest in arts policy, but Tamara Winikoff and the National Association for the Visual Arts are doing their best to keep the dream of a sane, sensible and above all else accountable arts policy alive. Although at the time of writing there isn’t a follow up for 2015, NAVA launched their annual conference in November 2014 with the aim of rethinking the art world and it’s future. Never say never again.

36. Lisa Havilah LY 38 | +2

In a few short years Lisa Havilah, as Director of Sydney’s multi-performance/exhibition space Carriageworks, has overseen the transition from a relatively barren industrial shed to a fully-fledged cultural institution of increasing importance, doubling its floor space and attracting a 500 percent increase in audiences. From her humble beginnings with a small art space in Wollongong, Havilah has been at the helm of Carriageworks expansion. Given the growing national and international art program at Carriageworks, there’s no doubt her sway and influence in the art world is going from strength to strength. In October, Carriageworks announced that three new resident arts and cultural organisations would be added in 2015, bringing the total number to seven. It also doesn’t hurt Havilah’s reputation that Carriageworks is the chosen venue for the biennial Sydney Contemporary Art Fair – to be held for the second time in September 2015.

35. Michael Reid 33 | – 2

Michael Reid is the Col. Kurtz of the art world – just think up a project, then go and do it. Can Reid maintain a gallery in Sydney’s eastern suburbs when all around you are closing or downsizing? Not a problem. Open a gallery in Murrurundi to catch the pony club set, the cultural tourists and build a lovely country home? Sure. Open another gallery in Berlin and then keep it going when just about every Australian who has tried doing just that has failed? Easy. Of course, Reid has had his setbacks and disappointments but with an ever-evolving stable of artists, a proselytizing influence on the commercial scene, Art Month and numerous other projects in his back pocket – not to mention his secondary market dealing – there aren’t too many others in the art world like him.

34. Alexi Glass-Kantor 32 | – 2

Artspace remains one of the most important galleries in Sydney, offering artists a place to stage ambitious non-commercial projects such as Alex DaviesThe Very Near Future and Justene Williams The Curtain Breathed Deeply, as well being a focal point for scholarship and publication such as the recent Alex Gawronski: Words and Pictures, edited by former Artspace director Blair French. Under Alexie Glass-Kantor’s steady-as-she-goes directorship the last year has been one of a consolidation – so now for year two…

33. Djon Mundine NEW

Known for trailing his trademark floor-length grey locks wherever he goes, Mundine is an activist who seems able to intelligently work the system while simultaneously employing any necessary subversive serves. Through his astute writing and independent curating he’s one of the most consistent and well-known advocates for Aboriginal art in the country. In the past year, for example, he co-curated (with Natalie King) the well-received 2014 Tarrawarra Biennial Whisper in My Mask and produced an international showing of three Aboriginal artists of Chinese descent at Yiban Yiban–Yellah Fellah at Redtory Art and Design factory in Guangzhou, China. [Just so you know, Mundine prefers the pronunciation of his surname to rhyme with wine while Djon equals John with Aboriginal spelling (according to Rick Feneley’s Sydney Morning Herald profile)].

32. Max Delany LY 22 | -10

Max Delany follows up his sterling work on Melbourne Now with an end of year blockbuster for 2014-15 that plays to the crowd without giving in to populism – the NGV’s David Shrigley – Life and Life Drawing being a major score for the gallery and another example of the curator’s continuing influence on a younger generation of artists. And as a bonus, the gallery has published an accompanying book on Shrigley and his work with essays by Delany and fellow NGV curator Serena Bentley with the likes of Will Self, Justin Clemens, Chris Kraus and artists Anastasia Klose and Jess Johnson.

31. Peter Fay LY 7 | – 24

Mentor, patron and avid art collector Peter Fay’s influence has been justly celebrated by those in the know while the retiring figure preferring a low key, personal approach. With a recent move to Tasmania, maybe Fay is now considering actual retirement, but his influence casts a long shadow in the Australian art world.

30. Pat Corrigan NEW

Moving into the list this year for the first time is businessman, Newtown bookshop owner and philanthropist, Pat Corrigan. Corrigan’s early business ventures in brokering and shipping brought him closer to the art world and together with his wife, Barbara, he’s been one of Australia’s most generous patrons for more than four decades. Collecting in the areas of books, manuscripts and artworks, Corrigan’s collection spans everything from traditional Aboriginal art to contemporary art and photography. Hundreds of works purchased by the Corrigan’s have been donated to Australian art galleries and cultural institutions, while many others are on loan at any one time. Currently showing are Gifted artists: Donations by Patrick Corrigan AM, a selected exhibition of contemporary Australian photo media, at The National Gallery of Australia and The Art of Giving: Gifts to the Collection by Patrick Corrigan AM, at Tweed Regional Gallery.

29. Dr. Gene Sherman LY 34 | +5

Who gives a better speech than Dr. Gene? Be it the launch of Gary Grealey’s photographic portrait of rugby union legend Ken Catchpole or one of her fashion projects, conceptual art installations, education programs or publications, Gene Sherman speaks from the heart, just like she runs her foundation. Sherman stages art projects by Australian and international artists that are museum quality, both in presentation and curation. With a major project by Shaun Gladwell in 2015 that includes a commissioned work with a companion career survey show down hill at UNSW Galleries, Sherman’s influence on the Australian art world continues apace.

28. Julianna Engberg LY 10 | – 10

As the creative director of the Biennale of Sydney 2014 with all its attendant problems and protests, Julianna Engberg produced a sprawling exhibition that came as no surprise to those who have known her previous curatorial projects over the years. As to how successful that BOS was remains to be seen, but Engberg deserves credit for the exhibition’s scope and the unenviable task of navigating the individual artist’s desires, boardroom pressures and hugely ambitious installations such as the new media pieces at Carriageworks. Now safely back behind her desk at Melbourne’s Australian Centre for Contemporary Art [“Australia’s only kunsthalle”], Engberg is plotting the destruction of Alderaan.

27. Daniel Mudie Cunningham LY 29 | +2

Daniel Mudie Cunningham, Senior Curator at Artbank, is not only back on the list this year, but he’s also moved up thanks to the opening of Artbank’s new gallery space in Waterloo where he curated its debut show Loose Canon. In addition to editing Artbank’s in-house mag, Sturgeon, DMC (together with Tony Stephens and the Artbank team) is constantly out and about in the commercial galleries burning up the air miles. While Cunningham is responsible for advising on new acquisitions for the self-funded organisation, he somehow finds time to continue his work as both a writer and as an artist, equaling a triple-influence hit in the market and how its perceived, as well as on younger practitioners of that rare fine art form – performance video.

26. Nick Mitzevich LY 31 | + 5

Despite some speculation that Nick Mitzevich may covet one of the recent State or National Director’s vacancies, he appears to be enjoying his term too much at the reins of the Art Gallery of South Australia to waste time in interviews. In a coup for the AGSA, his self-curated South Australian Biennial Dark Heart began the year with a bang when it received high praise from all quarters and record visitor numbers in excess of 100,000. Joanna Mendelssohn (for The Conversation) noted Mitzevich “delivered a tightly controlled, heart-wrenching, thoughtful critique of the change in Australian sensibility” and went further to suggest that Mitzevich’s “strong curatorial direction” meant that some of the artists produced their best work ever. One of the few Gallery Directors in Australia to use social media, Mitzevich is perhaps more in touch with art world conjecture and gossip than some of his contemporaries. In another smart move that will help tap into the networks of arts journalists and PR peeps in the eastern States, the AGSA has recently recruited the experienced and well-regarded, Susanne Briggs as communications manager. Bring on 2015!

25. Martin Browne LY 25 | –

Sydney-based gallerist Martin Browne has had a good year – a strong roster of gallery exhibitions, a good showing at the Melbourne Art Fair and – as a bonus cherry on top – new stable artist Fiona Lowry taking out the 2014 Archibald Prize. With strong behind-the-scenes participation in industry groups such as his term as a board member for the Melbourne Art Foundation, canny secondary market dealing and the ability to pick winners, Browne remains a hugely influential gallerist.

24. Susan Borham LY 27 | +3
Not a lot of credit is given to Art Collector, but over the last decade and a half it’s covered a huge range of artists, published the writing of some of Australia’s leading arts writers, critics and theorists, profiled dozens of dealers, gallerists and collectors, covered the auction scene, commercial and alternative galleries, all the while trying to widen the scope of what’s “collectable” – be it large scale sculpture, performance video or installation – while speaking to an inclusive, non-specialist audience. With the demise of a number of other Australian art magazines after various ill-fated attempts to bring in unrelated content in a quest to find readers in the age of the internet, AC editor-in-chief Susan Borham has kept the magazine alive and on paper by following one simple rule – stick to the art.

23. Chris Saines NEW

As Director of the Gallery duo known rather awkwardly as QAGOMA (that, on TAL’s most recent visit, was being pronounced Q-A-GOMA) Chris Saines’ debuts half-way up the top 50 list. Lots of recent curatorial moves and shifts in the Sunshine State (including Saines’ own) have produced a slightly messy start to his Director’s tenure – well, that’s how it seems to outsiders. The hard working Saines is known for rocking a great opening speech, wearing tasteful ties and, unlike some others, mixing it in with the crowds at openings – instead of hanging out exclusively with VIPs. Now he’s more settled in the role, QAGOMA has a great program lined up for 2015 that includes shows by David Lynch, Michael Parekowhai, Robert McPherson, Daniel Crooks and the very welcome profile boost for some leading Queensland artists in Queensland Contemporary Art mid way through next year.

22. Hetti Perkins LY 24 | +2

As the writer and presenter of two series of Art & Soul for ABC1, Hetti Perkins has become the preeminent authority on contemporary Aboriginal art in Australia’s mainstream media – and as the producer of Richard Bell’s ongoing series Colour Theory for NITV she has the alternative media sown up as well.

21. Wayne Tunnicliffe LY 26 | +5

Jumping five places this year, the rise of Tunnicliffe, head curator of Australian art at the Art Gallery of NSW, is due mainly to the success of his current exhibition Pop to Popism. Originally inspired by Tunnicliffe’s careful study of the Gallery’s Australian collection, both curator and Gallery have been at pains to point out that although many works have been sought and imported from International collections, the resulting narrative emphasises the local art scene of the latter part of the 20th century. It’s a provocative show of global relevance that provides a much needed summer boost. We can’t wait to see what’s next in store.

20. John McDonald LY 18 | +2

While his public profile is still very much attached to his position as art-critic-for-life at The Sydney Morning Herald [while enjoying the bonus of being a ‘film critic’ at the Australian Financial Review], it’s John McDonald’s forays into social media, mailing lists and website that’s keeping his power boat afloat. The esteemed critic’s weekly emails pumping his latest SMH and AFR columns – now published simultaneously on his titular website – come with bonus pith that skirts a zone of sometimes very personal opinion. Meanwhile, McDonald’s Twitter account @JMDartcritic serves out more tosh while making old people feel ‘with it’.

19. Kelly Gellatly NEW

Kelly Gellatly was appointed as the director of the Ian Potter Museum of Art in mid-2013 after a successful tenure at the NGV where she’d worked on Melbourne Now among other curatorial projects. While it takes a good year or so for the influence of a new director to become evident, Gellatly went into her new role with the determination to shake up how things were done behind the scenes as well as to oversee a calendar of exhibitions in 2014 such as Stephen Bush’s survey show Steenhuffel, the modernist abstraction exhibition The less there is to see the more important it is to look, and the popular favourite Basil Sellers Art Prize. With an equally impressive mix of historical and contemporary art exhibitions on the roster for next year, it looks like ‘the Pot’ is in safe hands.

18. Tony Stephens LY 21 | +3

And then there were… how many? By some estimation the size of the commercial art sector has halved over the last ten years. With fewer galleries showing fewer artists the contraction in the market is inevitable, rather like a black hole falling in on itself – but wait, there’s still hope. As the head of Artbank, Tony Stephens oversees the organisation’s purchasing of work by Australian artists, the majority of it at an early career stage that not only helps the artist but also grows their market. With Artbank’s collection approaching 10,000 works the org’s astute and edgy buying has not only assisted in avoiding an even bigger slide in the art market, but it has led to an Artbank purchase becoming a desirable item in every artist’s CV.

17. Richard Bell LY 20 | +3

There would be few artists in Australia with the profile of Richard Bell – artist, activist, astute social media commentator and documentary presenter. With a major survey of his work kicking off 2014 at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Bell has maintained the usually good-natured rage, with a variety of projects in the works thanks to timely Australia Council funding. In June, Bell penned a tribute to his friend, the late Gordon Bennett, demonstrating that while there’s plenty of front to Bell’s public image, it’s all based on heart. With all that – and his seemingly never-ending lecturing to under grad art students – Bell remains one of this country’s most powerful and influential artists.

16. Judith Neilson [and the Neilson Foundation] LY 45 | +29

Funnily enough Judith Neilson’s (owner of Sydney’s White Rabbit Gallery) position near the bottom of last year’s list was looking a bit shaky. That is, until last week’s announcement by the Biennale of Sydney that Judith and Kerr Neilson of the Neilson Foundation had just been announced as Principal Patron – rocketing her (and the Foundation) up the list by almost 30 places. Accepting the largest single donation ever received from a private donor, Biennale Chairman, Phillip Keir, thanked the Neilson’s for “their commitment and passion for the arts”. Presumably this means the show, headed up by curator Stephanie Rosenthal, is go for 2016.

15. The Balnaves Family LY 18 | +3

Handing out over $2.5 million annually to various cultural, educational and community groups, the Balnaves Foundation and individual members of the Balnaves family have a huge if mostly unseen influence on contemporary art in Australia. Among the organisations supported by the BF are the Art Gallery of NSW, the Art Gallery of NSW, Kaldor Public Art Projects, McClelland Gallery-Sculpture Park, Mosman Art Gallery and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. And for bonus points, the BF also supports Australia’s representation at the Venice Biennale.

14. Ben Quilty LY 14 | –

Remember that scene in Being John Malkovich when John Maklovich somehow goes inside his own head and everything in the world is John Malkovich? Lately it’s started to feel like we may have fallen down the same sort tunnel into a Ben Quilty world – there he is in the Sunday papers, there he is winning an award, there’s his work on tour around Australia, there he is fighting the good fight for the Archibald Prize, there he is on the wine list at TarraWarra Estate: Ben Quilty Chardonnay. Ben Quilty, Ben Quilty, Ben Quilty, Ben Quilty, Ben Quilty, Ben Quilty…

13. Anna Schwartz LY 16 | +3

So there’s the not so small matter of Anna Schwartz having two major galleries in Melbourne and Sydney, both featuring major solo shows by a roster of leading Australian artists including in Melbourne [deep breath] Daniel Crooks, Stieg Persson, Anjelica Mesiti, John Nixon, Kathy Temin, Callum Morton, Mikhala Dwyer and Stephen Bram, while in Sydney there were shows by [even deeper breath], Gabriella and Silvana Mangano, Kerrie Poliness, Rose Nolan and Stephen Bram with exhibitions by international artists Erwin Wurm in both galleries, and BOS2014 artist John Stezaker in Sydney. That alone would make Schwartz one of the most influential and powerful gallerists in Australia but the appointment of former Utopian Slumps director Melissa Loughnan as the director of both operations ensures a generational change in management.

12. Julie Lomax LY 15 | +3

Behind the scenes some of Julie Lomax’s [anonymous] supporters lobbied ‘Lomax for Number 1’. However, in her position as Director of Visual Arts at the Australia Council for the Arts (having previously held a similar position in England), Lomax is a veteran of these line-ups. She knows that having stepped up three places in the rankings this year is pretty damn good – given that the climb to the peak gets just that little bit harder towards the pinnacle. Lomax’s serious clout comes not only from her senior OzCo position, her high profile makes her one of Australian art’s finest advocates on the international stage. Employing her amazing network of contacts, which she constantly nourishes on every available social media platform, Lomax works diligently to have Australian art and artists recognised on national and global stages.

11. Michael Brand LY 17 | +6

Let’s think about Michael Brand’s position at the Art Gallery of NSW in two ways. First, while the transition from one management style to another may be a painful experience for Art Gallery of NSW staff, and putting aside whatever managerial eccentricities Brand may have brought to the position, what difference does of any of it make to the average visitor to the gallery? Answer: none at all. Comparatively speaking, Brand’s changes have been light and now, two years into the gig, the real tests of the director’s position are the exhibitions staged at the gallery. Which brings us to the second point: according to claims made at the press launch of Pop to Popism, Brand was using his international contacts to help secure major pieces for the best large-scale show seen at the gallery in some considerable time. Meanwhile, funding for plans to expand the gallery building itself have been secured. No matter what Fairfax Media might think – and what John McDonald might say – Brand is definitely on the up.

10. Marc & Eva Bessen NEW

If you live outside Victoria, you’re less likely to be aware of the Besen family’s significant contribution to the Australian art world. Having collected art since the 1950s, the Besen’s (who also happen to be John Kaldor’s in-laws) opened Australia’s first privately funded art museum – the TarraWarra Museum of Art – in Victoria’s Yarra Valley in 2003. Eleven years on, Allan Powell’s elegant architecturally designed building is going great guns, and particularly in more recent years, the TWMA has featured some terrific shows. This year the Tarrawarra Biennial: Whisper in My Mask received solid reviews while the current summer exhibitions, featuring work by Ian Fairweather, Tony Tuckson and Gosia Wlodarczak are definitely worth the short drive from Melbourne – and possibly also a flight from interstate. In the meantime, daughter Naomi Milgrom, is responsible for the recent opening of Melbourne’s new MPavilion.

09. Andrew Cameron LY 11 | +3

As the poets of Cyprus Hill once so eloquently put it – when the shit goes down you better be ready. And indeed, when the BOS 2014 shit hit the fan Andrew Cameron was there to temporarily step in following the resignation of Luca Belgiorno-Nettis from the BOS board. With the post-Biennale politics still playing out, his influence continues to be felt, most visibly through his ongoing support of the Art Gallery of NSW’s Contemporary projects space, but also through an array of art related boards including as chair of the Art Gallery of NSW Foundation, the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Melbourne Art Foundation and the Andrew Cameron Family Foundation.

08. Roslyn Oxley LY 12 | +4

As 2014 came and went and the oft-rumoured closure of Roslyn Oxley’s Paddington gallery didn’t eventuate it dawned on many that the gallery could well go on forever. And that’d be just fine. With a stable that includes a number of Australia’s leading contemporary artists and that crosses both generational and gender divides, Oxley’s gallery continues to be one of the most important in the country.

07. Barry Keldoulis LY 13 | +6

When Keldoulis closed his popular Sydney commercial gallery (Gallery Barry Keldoulis) a couple of years ago, there was an outpouring of art world sympathy (mixed with slight relief of not having to enunciate that tongue twisting name in the future). Keldoulis has not only bounced back from those despondent days, he’s done so with a vengeance, heading up the Melbourne Art Fair and Sydney Contemporary Art Fair as Director of both events. He’s also recently been appointed Chair of the National Association for the Visual Arts. Keldoulis’ likeable personality and down-to-earth style have also seen him avoid the worst of the tall poppy syndrome. At both the MAF and SCAF, TAL has seen him personally greeting ‘ordinary people’ with a warm welcome and handshake at the door. In his new role at NAVA (alongside Executive Director Tamara Winikoff) he’ll be chief industry spokesperson for artists where all those people skills should come in handy.

06. Elizabeth Ann Macgregor LY 9 | +3

The habourside Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney is many overseas tourist’s only engagement with contemporary art in Australia – and that visibility continues with the MCA as a key venue for the Biennale, annual shows such as Primavera, major overseas exhibitions such as the current Chuck Close survey exhibition and the forthcoming Light Show from London’s Hayward gallery. As the boss lady in charge, Elizabeth Ann Macgregor’s tenure as director has proven remarkably successful, with a number of secret projects in the works and a continuing dedication to proselytizing the importance of contemporary art to anyone who’ll listen.

05. Tony Ellwood LY 10 | +5

While the directors of public museums and galleries are the public face of an institution – and take credit for the work of dozens of workers below them in the gallery hierarchy – there is a palpable difference between various institutions depending on the management style and vision of the person in the big chair. Under Tony Ellwood’s watch the NGV mixes quality crowd pleasers such Italian Masterpieces with catnip-for-design-obsessives in shows such as Mid Century Modern and major works by artists like Wade Marynowsky’s Nostalgia for Obsolete Futures. While the historical curiosity of the naming of the gallery claims its scope as being national, Ellwood’s gallery can rightly claim just that significance.

04. Allan Myers LY 6 | +2

Among Allan Myers many philanthropic ventures, the Melbourne QC and businessman has been the president of the National Gallery of Victoria’s council of trustees, a board member of the Ian Potter Cultural Trust and the Ian Potter Foundation, as well as donating a cool $10 million to the NGV, a high profile donation made in an effort for others in a similar position to do the same. Along with his dedication to social justice issues and organisations, Myers sets a high bar for arts philanthropy in Australia.

03. John Kaldor LY 5 | +2

It would take something major to see arts patron, philanthropist and art lover Kaldor fall out of the Top 10. Most recognisably through the vehicle of Kaldor Public Art Projects, Kaldor is responsible for introducing a diverse range of international contemporary art to Australian audiences – most famously, perhaps, Christo and Jean-Claude’s’ Wrapped Coast at Little Bay (1969) and Jeff Koons Puppy (installed at Circular Quay outside Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art in 1995). That’s not to mention his major gift of contemporary art to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Moving forward, the latest and 45th Kaldor Public Art Project Your Very Good Idea will be completed in 2016 with winner of the nationwide call out, Jonathan Jones, set to “realise his large-scale, temporary art project titled barrangal dyara (skin and bones), a re-imagining of the historic Garden palace which stood in the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney, in the 19th century.”

02. Simon Mordant LY 1 | -1

You want power and influence – check out Simon Mordant’s CV – Chairman of the Board of the MCA, the Venice Commissioner, the boards of the ABC, the Sydney Theatre Company, the Leadership Council for the New Museum in New York, a member of the Executive Committee of the Tate International Council and the International Council of MOMA in New York. Oh yeah, there’s a wing named after him at the MCA thanks to a multimillion dollar donation to the newish building. And as the head of the Australian delegation at Venice Biennale and the newly remade Australian Pavilion is influence is huge – Mordant’s is only bumped down to number two this year on account of a strange confluence of events…

= 01. George Brandis [LY 2 | +1] / David Walsh [LY 5 | +2]

By some estimations one third of Tasmania’s tourism is generated by David Walsh’s Museum of Old and New Art. That’s right – ONE THIRD. With a continuing series of major art exhibitions/events at the riverside gallery/fortress-of-solitude including the recent Matthew Barney show River of Fundament it would be hard to find another person with as much influence on the way contemporary art is perceived in Australia. George Brandis meanwhile, the Federal Attorney General and Minister for the Arts, arrived in government without an arts policy beyond a desire to take control of the previously independent Australia Council – and by extension the entirety of the non-commercial Australian art world – and put it under the blow torch of ministerial direction. Some may think that a Federal Government doesn’t really need a coherent arts policy to oversee the eighth largest contributor to the country’s GDP, nor have any problem with management of the portfolio by a minister coasting along on the previously reviled policy settings of his predecessor – but Brandis deserves his top spot on this list if only by virtue of his ambition to exercise his will as he sees fit. Between them Brandis and Walsh are the most powerful people in the Australian art world – there’s no light between them.

The Art Life


  1. Fuckyou

    3 actual artists out of 50 in this list (if you count DMC).

    None of the 47 exists without artists.

    What a sorry statement about our little art world. Art administrators are more important than artists.

    Get fucked artlife – you are as out dated and out of touch as the CSS on your website.

    You can tell us to ‘get fucked’ but don’t ever insult our CSS! – The Art Life

  2. Firstly, may I congratulate you on publishing ‘The Power Trip 2015’ and Djon Mundine for his inclusion.

    For the sake of accuracy, Catherine Croll, Director of Cultural Partnerships Australia, was the manager and producer of Yiban Yiban – Yellah Fellah>; an historic cultural exchange between Australian First Nation and Chinese Minority Group artists in Yunnan, Chongqing and Guangdong.

    She, for the reasons you have outlined, invited Djon Mundine to curate an exhibition of Australian artists examining their mixed Indigenous and Chinese heritage at the Redtory Art & Design Factory, Guangzhou as part of the larger Yiban Yiban program of workshops, forums and storytelling sessions.

    Yiban Yiban was the most recent in a series of large exhibitions and cultural exchange programs held during the past 8 years designed to promote Australian emerging and Indigenous art in China and Asian art in Australia.

    While we do not aspire to being powerful, we are very proud to have had our work recognized by both our peers and successive Federal governments through the Australian Art in Asia Awards (2013) and the Australia China Achievement Awards (2014).

    Please limit live links on comments – Art Life Management


    can believe you missed the new directors of IMA in Brisbane

    We expect they’ll be on future lists – Art Life Management.

  4. Professor Donovan Upton-Stratford

    It’s about time a concise poignant piece of work such as this has been done. It had to be done, it had to be said. This list is absolutely on the money and I wouldn’t change a ranking if I could.. Very succinct. Well researched. Altruistic. Brave and invigorating.

  5. mishunderstood

    Blah blah blah BEN Quilty wine. Ok sponsership like the footie…

  6. Mrs Woman

    I concur with the good Professor. Poignant. Like a fine Ben Quilty wine.

  7. Just as well Artists like me ignore this whole power trip thing. I am self taught with a background in PRISON and marketing. Sold my foundation piece of my solo exhibition in Annecy, France to a Swiss Art collector – my strategy was to circumvent this whole scene and go to where the money is and paint what ever you like!

  8. That should read PR and Marketing 🙂

    We were going to make a sarcastic reply but as you’ve done hard time in the big house, we thought better of it – Art Life Management

  9. Dr teabag (used)

    As your erudite and profound first responder said, not having many artists on the list says something about the art world but she/he is wrong to blame The Art Life (the messenger indeed). The list demonstrates that the Art world has very little to do with artists and perhaps even less to do with art works. I would be willing to bet that if you were to call for votes on a list of the 50 most important Australian art works over say the last 20 years, you would be hard put to find anyone who remembers them. I would also bet that the list would vary wildly between cities and even within cities. So, despite the care with which the list has been put together i think its main effect and value resides in the resentment and “vicious ingratitude” it reveals among the artworld’s ambitious yet lesser subalterns and other epigone.

  10. Ruark Lewis

    Bizarre – and I think I’d tend to agree with Fuckyou

  11. Thanks., Nice post… Martin Browne LY is the best.

  12. I loved reading this list! It is the essence of what is going on in the art world, I now have a huge list of websites to visit both for information and inspiration for me as an artist. One thing I noticed is how prevalent the critics and haters are in the art world. What is it about our Australian art world that attracts these people? Is it jealousy? hmmmm…

  13. Honeysuckle

    Giant piece of flotsam..
    And is Sydney the centre of your universe?

  14. MadMaestre

    I find it disappointing that so few actual artists made the list. The public sees and judges the physicality of artefacts not the admin behind it. Do articles like this actually make us feel better about ourselves or stimulate the insecure.

  15. Deanna

    I loved the comments of the people you banned.
    Or isn’t that the democratic reason their names are in black and not in blue?
    Unless they were so frustrated that the Art “Industry” became such a massive corporation in this country, they withdrew all by themselves?
    However – I loved Fuckyou for his/hers copulating words; not that any Truth or Lesson Learned ever comes out of such copulation, just banning, after all you are just politicians, no? Very Putinesque. LOL
    Must have touched a chord – what am I saying! It struck one. Hard.

  16. What are you on about? The people who left comments whose names are black not blue simply means they didn’t provide an email address or web address, so there is no link.

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