The Power Trip 2016: The 50 Most Powerful People in Australian Art

Art Life , Stuff Dec 11, 2015 4 Comments

Welcome to the fourth outing of Australia’s most beloved power list – the good, the bad and the ugly of the Australian art world.

As has become traditional at this time of year, we tot up the points, scan the media, consult the sacred smoke and consider the gizzards, then put the list in numbered order. We call it The Power Trip. This is our process and it’s trade marked and Pat. Pen.

There are three kinds of power in the art world: 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.

As is also traditional with TPT, people drop in to leave comments denouncing us for the lack of artists on the list and to subsequently to tell us to “get f_cked”. While artists are the hard workers of the art world, they are only one part of it – one might well say that without artists most of the people on this list wouldn’t be here, but without art neither would we – or you – and that would be a dark and terrifying world – all hail President Trump! So let’s just bypass all that this year and just assume you’ve already told us to “get f_cked” and proceed to the list itself…

There’s been a bit of an overall shift downwards of the list because we’ve had some new entries jump in at the top. If you live and die by the numbers don’t fret if you’ve moved down slightly, anything within ten is more or less at the same  level. If you’re off the list altogether that’s because either we can’t see you – or we don’t want to. Over the years when we have included Federal Arts Ministers on TPT people have scoffed, particularly last year when we ranked our good friend Sen. George Brandis equal first. So who’s laughing now? As his replacement Sen. Mitch Fifield makes his debut on the list we think we’ll be hearing from Brandis again some day. And we don’t mean a postcard.

Some of our list regulars have departed the list and the country: Vasili Kaliman and his wife Jess Johnson are moving to New York after Kaliman won a green card in the USG lottery, so Kaliman and his wife Jess Johnson are leaving Melbourne and going to New York, where he and his wife will start a new life, under assumed identities perhaps… Also gone from TPT is former Australian Centre for Contemporary Art fixture Julianna Engberg who leaves her post to go to Europe to explore an interest in soft furnishings and curating things.

Some gallery directors who have exited the list but not their jobs is Karen Quinlan, director of Bendigo Regional Gallery, who has been demoted on account of  the gallery’s upcoming Marilyn Monroe exhibition. One might well celebrate the “Bendigo effect” but while it’s one thing to have a show of fancy undies, it’s quite another to turn your gallery into the equivalent of a suburban cafe. Nein danke.

A few curators have also gone too, but they’ll no doubt be back. Don’t believe us? Just check out what Glenn Barkley is up to now.

Enough of the preamble – let’s go straight to the feast…




50. CJ Hendry NEW

Two hundred and fifty thousand Instagram followers and counting, CJ (Catherine Jenna) Hendry’s entry into the top 50 this year is either a nod to the power of Instalebrity, alludes to the fact that she has three times more fans than Michael Zavros, or demonstrates that we’re not as cynical as you think we are. After all, CJ and her manager Bill Tikos aka The Cool Hunter are donating all the profit from the auction sale of her Half-Dipped Nike AirMags drawing to buy shoes for those less fortunate than themselves.

49. Lisa Slade NEW

As the Adelaide Biennial 2016 continues to expand on themes beyond South Australian borders, it’s head curator Lisa Slade’s name that’s handed a promo in every presser. Appointed to the newly created position of Assistant Director Artistic Programs by Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) Director Nick Mitzevich [see below] in 2015, Slade previously served as manager of the previous two Biennials – including the edgy 2014 version Dark Heart that set a record high for visitor numbers. Continuing the AGSA’s drive for increased community engagement, Slade’s Magic Object brings together a talented group of artists that includes Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Hiromi Tango and Heather B Swann alongside a selection of the hottest new ceramicists’ Glenn Barkley, Juz Kitson and Ramesh Mario- Nithiyendran. Looks like 2016 will be a doozy.

Tony Albert

48. Tony Albert NEW

We simply couldn’t ignore Tony Albert for the Power Trip this year. Having debuted in 2015’s Outsiders, Albert’s past year in art has moved from strength to strength. After winning several major prizes last year, he pulled off the $500k public art commission Yininmadyemi–Thou didst let fall, a tribute to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander war servicemen for the ANZAC centenary. Albert, Richard Bell’s former studio assistant, was also selected for numerous important group shows including Video Contemporary at the Sydney Contemporary Art Fair, Moving Targets 24 Frames Per Second (with Stephen Page) at Carriageworks and the Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art. On his way home from an International Studio and Curatorial Program in New York, we’re guessing he’s heading to Sydney for the imminent opening of When Silence Falls at the AGNSW. 

47. Eleonora Triguboff LY 47 | –

 With the newsstand edition defunct, ARTAND continues as a web magazine with its first [and so far only] edition making a debut in July. With periodic news updates and posted reviews the site has many competitors butd has yet to break through with its own unique selling point. Meanwhile, Eleonora Triguboff’s art world profile prospers on the strength of Art & Australia’s high-end limited edition art books.

46. Susi Muddiman LY 46 | –

 The role of the regional art gallery is often underappreciated in the art world – except of course for the artists who show in them and the people who run them – but are only occasionally visited by city-based art punters and rarely covered in mainstream media. But for local audiences the regional gallery is at the centre of the cultural life of regional Australia. Susi Muddiman’s tenure as director of Tweed Regional Gallery and Art Centre has seen the gallery grow to include the Margaret Olley Art Centre and the Nancy Fairfax Artist’s Studio, as well as building a formidable visitation numbers. With a strong line up of shows by local, regional and national artists, and a regular pit stop on the touring schedule for most important national travelling shows, the TRG is one of the country’s best regional operators. Muddiman meanwhile is tipped for even bigger things if she ever tires of the good life by the river.

45. Kent Buchanan LY 45 | –

 Kent Buchanan’s tenure as curator of the Dubbo Regional Gallery has seen the regional gallery become not just a key player in the cultural life of the Central West, but also as a gallery with a national profile thanks to its farsighted and intelligent use of social media. Buchannan’s oversight of the gallery’s exhibitions as well as a judiciously selected roster of touring shows means the DRG fights well above its weight. Buchanan’s expertise has also been recognised by his duties as a guest judge on various scholarships and art prizes.

44. Danie Mellor LY 43 | – 1

Unlike the last few years, we haven’t seen (or heard) much of Danie Mellor this year – but this may have something to do with the fact that he’s been working on the ‘largest public commission for a commercial office building in Australia’. That’s all 350 square metres of it wrapped around the interior of 480 Queen Street in Brisbane. Like the majority of those at the Australia Council for the Arts, Mellor (Chair of Arts Practice, Visual Arts) stayed publicly silent when the now ex-Minister for the Arts George Brandis decided to strip the Council of $104 million in funding – [although we’re not suggesting he didn’t contribute to Ozco’s submission to the Senate Enquiry]. Back on the art scene, the SMH reported that Mellor sold all but one of his small works shown by Sophie Gannon at Sydney Contemporary, his work is currently included in Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA’s) Asia Pacific Triennial 8 and will appear in next year’s Adelaide Biennial, Magic Object.

43. Michael Reid LY 35 | – 8

Michael Reid’s operations across multiple galleries, continents and universes has led to a counter-intuitive reduced public profile in Australia during the last year. With his trio of galleries going strong, the Reid-hosted Belle artist dinners sold out events and his behind-the-scenes influence considerable, maybe MR has just decided to tap the breaks a little and enjoy the scenery.

42. Lisa Fehily LY 42 | –

 It seems like 2015 has been the year of art world divorces with Lisa Fehily splitting from husband Ken ‘Mr. GST’ Fehily. Early rumors that Fehily Contemporary would likewise go the way of any number of contemporary Australian art galleries over the last few years have [so far] proved unfounded with expansion plans underway and a strong showing by gallery artists in both gallery exhibitions, suggesting Lisa Fehily and the gallery is sticking around.

41. Alison Kubler & Michael Zavros LY 41 | –

 Yes, they’ve switched top billing. While Michael Zavros has continued his high profile painting career – drawing the proverbial short straw by painting an official portrait of G.G. Quentin Bryce – it’s Alison Kubler who arguably has had the higher profile in the last year. While Kubler has proven herself a popular speaker and panel convener at literary festivals on topics as diverse as fashion, artists – and the lives of artists – her behind-the-scenes art consulting isn’t a bad career move either. Mc/k art – Kubler’s company – were art consultants for the refurbishment of Brisbane International Airport, so when you’re next pausing over name brand perfumes, or selecting noise cancelling headphones, the art in your peripheral vision is all thanks to her.

40. Philip Bacon LY 40 | –

Philip Bacon Galleries – owned by Brisbane gallerist and philanthropist Philip Bacon – recently clocked up 40 years in business. Still holding sell-out exhibitions with art that sells, Bacon’s large stable of artists includes Michael Zavros, Rick Amor, Vera Moller and Wendy Sharpe in addition to gallery stalwarts such as the Estates of Margaret Olley and Fred Williams. A member of the Foundation Board of the National Gallery of Australia (NGA), Bacon was on the Board for years and remains a large financial and in-kind supporter. In addition to other positions held on various arts boards and councils, Bacon is, interestingly, also the Deputy Chair of The Board of Trustees at QAGOMA.

39. Ursula Sullivan & Joanna Strumpf LY 44 | +5

 Relying on a stable of successful artists that include Alex Seton and Sydney Ball, Sullivan + Strumpf continue to be major players in the Sydney art world. With sold out shows of emerging artist Karen Black’s work at Sydney Contemporary Art Fair, their 21st century business model increasingly leans toward showing their artists’ work at international art fairs. It hasn’t hurt to date. The duo’s latest claim to fame includes being the only Australian gallery invited to ART021 Shanghai where they’ll be hoping to wow Chinese audiences with the work of the two Sams – Jinks and Leach. Now, if they could just fix that website…

38. Tamara Winikoff LY 37 | – 1

What a terrible year to be the executive director of the National Association of the Visual Arts – or perhaps not. After the NPEA debacle and the creation of Catalyst [see Sen. Mitch Fifield below], Tamara Winikoff and her staff at NAVA have been fighting the good fight in the face of almost total absurdity. Winikoff’s carefully reasoned and calm responses to the unfolding drama of arts bureaucracy set a high bar, broad arts policy is one just aspect branch of Winikoff’s remit. NAVA’s mission to educate artists and others on how to navigate the real world of Australian visual arts is the kind of power and influence you can respect.

37. Victoria Lynn LY 38 | + 1

After making her debut on the Power Trip last year, Victoria Lynn has continued to consolidate her role as director at the TarraWarra Museum of Art, overseeing world-class exhibitions at the only Australian gallery-in-a-winery not dedicated to either ego or hubris. Exhibitions such as the Tony Tuckson and Ian Fairweather shows over summer 2014-15, the An-Li: A Chinese Ghost Tale by Kate Benyon and Pierre Huyghe: Tarrawarra International 2015 curated by Lynn and Amelia Barikin were as good as any shows offered anywhere in 2015.

36. Glenn Barkley RETURNED

Mercilessly dropped from The Power Trip after he departed as senior curator at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, we’ve had to atone by moving Glenn ‘Mr. Everywhere’ Barkley straight to the 30s. Perhaps Sydney’s only ‘supercurator’, in 2015 Barkley’s been a major player behind the scenes. In addition to being Director of this year’s Art Month Sydney, he curated six exhibitions in his first five months as a freelancer (or was that five exhibitions in six months?). In any event, that’s just a start. Barkley has also turned his hand to ceramics and his ar career has taken off at such a furious pace that no one, including Barkley himself, might have predicted it. Next year will see a raft of Barkley projects and the inclusion of his work in Magic Object, the 2016 Adelaide Biennial where we’ll no doubt be treated to more of Barkley’s gaudy neo-rococo objects.


Marcus Westbury

35. Marcus Westbury LY 48 | + 13

After the recent screening of his three-part ABC TV series Bespoke and his oversubscribed crowd-funded book Creating Cities moving with record speed from #978,699 to #1 in its ecategory on the Amazon book store – ‘Mr. Newcastle’ Marcus Westbury (who lives in Melbourne) jumps quite a few places this year. While we concede that the Urban and Regional Economics ecategory is pretty specialised, it’s all still rather impressive. Westbury now makes a living travelling and talking about his ‘renew’ projects, urban planning and design. According to the Sydney Morning Herald Westbury is “affable, engaging and – importantly – beard-free (although his black-rimmed spectacles do put him on the low-to-medium hipster scale).”

34. Dr. Gene Sherman LY 29 | – 5

The establishment of the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation saw the former commercial gallery dumping its regular roster of artist exhibitions to become a showcase for international and Australian exhibitions with regular forays into fashion, architecture and other manifestations of Dr. Gene Sherman’s curatorial vision. While the ambition has certainly been there, the projects have sometimes fallen short. Projects such as the installation of Yang Zhichao’s Chinese Bible – a satellite show in conjunction with Go East: The Gene and Brian Sherman Contemporary Asian Art Collection exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW – was impressive but theatrical installations such as Shaun Gladwell’s The Lacrima Chair – a new work to compliment his career survey at UNSW Galleries – were seriously lacking. With an emergent, new money version of private art museums on the rise, SCAF is starting to look decidedly old school.

33. Djon Mundine NLY 33 | –

 Look, we’re just big fans of all-rounder Djon Mundine. Not only can he curate a great show, produce an eloquent speech at a moment’s notice and string words together that suddenly make perfect sense of everything, he’s just as happy to share some art goss and a sausage roll over a latte. What more could we ask?

32. Max Delany LY 32 | –

 Max Delany’s position in the Power Trip somewhat hinges on the next several months. Responsible for last year’s Melbourne Now extravaganza as well as David Shrigley Life and Life Drawing and part of the team that organised the excellent Lurid Beauty: Australian Surrealism and its Echoes, the Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Victoria has spent the past few years working on this year’s likely summer blockbuster Andy Warhol/Ai Weiwei. Opening around now it’s an exhibition of truly international calibre that promises to expose the ‘hidden links’ between two of the most revered artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. With all that free publicity already generated courtesy of the Lego/Ai Weiwei controversy, what could possibly go wrong?

31. Anna Pappas NEW

In a press release posted on the Melbourne Art Foundation’s website in August, the public learned of a split between the Melbourne Art Fair and Art Fairs Australia [see Tim Etchell below], an arrangement that many expected to last for at least a decade. So where to now for the Fair? Under the chairpersonship of Anna Pappas, the organisation is doing some soul searching and stakeholder consultation to figure out the answer to just that question. Whatever the outcome, gallerist Pappas and the board will hold the key to the future for a large part of the commercial gallery scene, both through the Fair as well as through the Foundation’s awards, this year given to John Kaldor, Bill Henson and Daniel Boyd.

30. Pat Corrigan LY 30 | –

If someone could be called a ‘super collector’ then Pat Corrigan more than fits the bill. With a massive personal collection of art spanning a variety of forms, genres, periods and artists, as well as holding a formidable collection of books and manuscripts, Corrigan’s influence in the art market is widely acknowledged. But his philanthropy over the decades has also made him hugely influential on the careers on young artists and the collections of galleries with an array of donations and gifts to the likes of the National Gallery of Australia as well as regional galleries.

29. Daniel Mudie Cunningham LY 27 | – 2

 Aside from posting selfies with his new BFF #Mambro [Marina Abramovic] at David Walsh’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) earlier in the year and attending more openings than anyone than maybe Julie Lomax, DMC’s domination of the Sydney art scene continues with the recent opening of his new show Shitter at Galerie Pompom. The Senior Curator at Artbank and Editor of Sturgeon magazine is apparently a favourite at MONA. While his own work has been selected for past exhibitions, Loved his curated survey of work from the late artist Katthy Cavaliere recently debuted alongside that of well-known British artists Gilbert and George. #trending

28. Alexi Glass-Kantor LY 34 | + 6

This year the Executive Director of Artspace also doubled as project supervisor making some fairly major adjustments to the home base in Woolloomooloo. Back in September many were anxious when the scaffolding for round two of building works was still in place the day before the opening of Sydney Contemporary Art (Book) Fair. Someone, however, cracked the whip and the next day it had all magically disappeared. Volume 2015 drew a large enthusiastic crowd and received major bonus points for being the only one of the Sydney Contemporary sites to hand out free drinks. Having finished a major reno, a rejig of the Artspace program and a shake up in staff positions, under Alexie Glass Kantor’s leadership, Artspace has already produced some great shows. Exhibitions such Art as a Verb and the 2015 NSW Visual Arts Fellowship – awarded to young Heath Franco – emerged as winners. On top of all that, Glass Kantor is also a curator for the Encounters section of Art Basel Hong Kong.

27. Lisa Havilah LY 36 | + 9

Can Lisa Havilah’s star shine even brighter? Despite being down to earth and making few appearances in the glossies, the hard-working Director of Carriageworks has overseen the transformation of this giant industrial shed into an innovative multi-arts centre and growing hub for Sydney cultural life. Recent coups have seen a $500k donation from Anna Schwartz. Marked for five-years of international programming at Carriageworks, the first off the rank for 2016 will be Ghanaian artist El Anatsui, winner of the major Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Biennale. That’s not to mention Carriageworks’ increase in audience attendances of 43% year on year with figures that would make Michael Brand weep.

26. Martin Browne LY 25 | – 1

 Despite his recent departure from the board of the Melbourne Art Fair, Martin Browne remains one of the most influential and creative businessmen in the Australian art world. With some astute decisions over the years, not just as the director of a prosperous gallery representing some of Australia’s most commercially successful artists, but also as an astute secondary market dealer has seen Browne’s reputation as one of the most influential gallerists in the country.

25. Susan Borham LY 24 | – 1

In art publishing it’s either go online or die, and while Art Collector under Editor-in-Chief Susan Borham has evolved into a various online ventures, they’ve kept the physical magazine alive – and thriving. While just about all of AC’s competition have closed down or become super niche, the now venerable magazine forges ahead with a good chunk of the commercial art world’s ad spend and an enviable general readership willing to pay $20 per issue.

Chris Saines

24. Chris Saines LY 23 | – 1

 As we write, the affable captain of QAGOMA’s twin-hulled ship is cruising on the breeze – basking in another round of great reviews for the eighth rendition of its flagship exhibition, the Asia Pacific Triennial that, by all accounts, broke opening night records. Under Saines the QAGOMA team has also spent the past year presenting some memorable shows that featured Australian artists – particularly Robert MacPherson’s The Painter’s Reach and Daniel Crooks Motion Studies. Although Saines still hasn’t found a better acronym for the dual Queensland galleries (a writer for international art platform Artforum recently noted, “I keep thinking they’re saying Glaucoma…”) Saines gets marks for rocking a great speech that’s perfectly timed to avoid yawns in the crowd.

23. Nick Mitzevich LY 26 | + 3

The strength of the Art Gallery of South Australia’s exhibition program lies its crowd pleaser’s such as the Bill Viola survey show and Treasure Ships: Art In The Age of Spices, as well in solo artist exhibitions such as Trent Parke’s The Black Rose and Yvonne Koolmatrie’s Riverland. Under Nick Mitzevich’s directorship the AGSA has also completed its ambitious rehang of one half of its permanent collection creating one of the most invigorating museum experiences in the country.   Oh yeah, and it’s also the home of one of the most important biannual art exhibitions in the country. Nice job.

22. Kelly Gellatly LY 19 | – 3

Kelly Gellatly’s directorship of the Ian Potter Museum of Art has seen the venerable Melbourne institution produce some outstanding shows in 2015 including authoritative historical overviews such as Weird Melancholy: The Australian Gothic curated by Suzette Wearne and artist solo shows that blend old and new works such as in Julie Rrap: Remaking The World curated by Vincent Alessi. Heading into 2016 with the mouthful that is Fabrik: conceptual, minimal and performative approaches to textiles with work by artists including John Barbour, Sarah CrowEST and ADS Donaldson the gallery continues to play to its strengths.

21. Tony Stephens LY 18 | – 3

Hailing from Australia’s smartest city (that’d be Ipswich) Tony Stephens, a plumber for twelve years during his early career, now oversees the 10,000 strong Artbank art collection – the second largest collection of Australian contemporary art in the world. With half of that number leased out at any one time, Artbank’s funds are channeled back into buying and commissioning additional works, thereby supporting living contemporary visual artists. Artbank not only has the largest public art-buying purse in the country, investing in experimental works is unhampered by the usual bureaucracy. In Artbank’s new Waterloo Gallery, Stephens and team have hosted some engaging shows by independent curators including Djon Mundine’s survey of indigenous artist Robert Campbell Jnr and Mark Feary’s Grey Matter. Future expansion will hopefully see more Australian businesses overseas leasing works from Artbank, with plans to extend its reach to big business and play a leading role in cultural diplomacy. Being entrepreneurial from inside a public institution ain’t all that easy, but Stephens manages to do so with some aplomb.

20. John McDonald LY 20 | –

 If you follow the weekly blog of the Sydney Morning Herald’s “influential art critic”, you might mistakenly imagine John McDonald’s main art criticism is leveled at Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW) leadership. McDonald also maintains an ongoing gripe about the proposed move of the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta. Meanwhile, we know McDonald’s is still important because when arriving at a gallery we’re always advised whether he’s ‘been in’. But hey, we’re all getting older. After a bottle of red we might even agree that his SMH column is “well written” and “insightful”. We also can’t help but secretly enjoy his dissing of numerous 2015 exhibitions such as Michael Parekowhai’s The Promised Land at QAGOMA – even if we didn’t completely concur that “it made me feel like was like looking at some extravagant dessert dreaming of a bowl of noodles” or the fact that he dismissed one of our favourite QAGOMA sculptures, The Horn of Africa. Pfft. Hasn’t the Esteemed Critic ever been to New Zealand?

19. Michael Brand LY 19 | –

It aint easy being king. With John McDonald and ex-PM The Hon Paul Keating on his back it’s hard not to picture Michael Brand pacing around his office wondering how to avoid the next flank attack on his leadership of the AGNSW. We, however, envision him in more relaxed mode – perhaps gazing across the Harbour with that line from Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they will come” repeating over and over in his mind. Having suffered much criticism during his tenure and particularly of late, Brand seems pretty unperturbed: he’s moving ahead with plans to have Sydney Modern designed by Japanese architect team SANAA built by 2020 in ‘that’ spot with ‘those’ views to the north of the current Gallery despite apparently having none of the required $400m funds in place. Brave or naive? We’re calling the former.

18. Richard Bell LY 20 | +3

Just when we thought he was uncharacteristically cruising below the radar, Brisbane’s Richard Bell has stormed home with a wet sail. Currently one of Australia’s most successful international artists, in the last few weeks Bell’s Embassy 2013 installation has popped up at Performa 15 (New York) and the Jakarta Biennale 2015. His new video work Larry 2015 appears in the latest incarnation of the Asia Pacific Triennial 8 recently opened at QAGOMA and this month the AGNSW opens When Silence Falls featuring a new Bell acquisition (with Emory Douglas). In January, he’s been included in On Performance a show at SMBA – Stedelijk Museum’s (Amsterdam) – project space and, during the 2016 Adelaide Biennial, he’ll show work at the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia. Bell’s Embassy 2013 was also selected as a key work for the Sydney Biennale 2016 by artistic director Stephanie Rosenthal and by his own account, he’s already lining up shows for 2017. Not bad for a year’s effort.

Anna Schwartz

17. Anna Schwartz LY 13 | – 4

Perhaps the cost of running two galleries would eventually become prohibitive, especially if you had one regular-sized space in Melbourne and one gigantic gallery in Sydney, and if your stable was a mix of Australian and international artists with a penchant for big shows, then maybe, just maybe, closing down the big gallery would be seen as a retreat to a more sensible and manageable scale. Well, not so much for Anna Schwartz who closes her Sydney gallery by handing over the keys to Carriageworks director Lisa Havilah along with a cheque for $500,000. The plan is to create gallery that will be a part of Carriageworks proper, to be curated by Havilah and Schwartz, and to kick off in January ’16 with a solo show by the Ghanaian artist El Anatsui, winner of the Golden Lion at the 2015 Venice Biennale. As Jane O’Sullivan reported in the Australian Financial Review, “Schwartz says her decision to close her Sydney gallery after eight years is not a scaling back, nor is it financially motivated. ‘I have a show on at the moment by Marco Fusinato. There are five very large-scale works – the largest is about seven metres long – and it’s sold out, FYI.’” Yes, mam!

16. Sen. Mitch Fifield

How do you take a complete catastrophe and turn it into an unmitigated disaster? You hand the Federal Arts portfolio to Senator Mitch Fifield after Senator George Brandis has done with it. Under the Liberals, the role of Federal arts minister has traditionally been a ceremonial one, but all that changed when Labor developed policy and outcomes linked to cultural nation building. Undaunted, Brandis hatched a whole new funding scheme in 2015 – the National Program for Excellence in the Arts – a hostile cultural takeover, cheered on by shock jocks and right wing bloggers, all of it to be bankrolled by defunding the Australia Council. With a subsequent senate inquiry into the NPEA, and with more than 2,000 submissions heard, Brandis and the shambolically organised fund were saved at the last minute by Malcolm Turnbull’s ascension. The following reshuffle saw Fifield in the invidious position of having to assuage the arts community while saving face for a senior Liberal colleague. The solution was as predictable as it was absurd: a rebranding of NPEA as Catalyst and the return of one third of the appropriated OzCo funding. It aint over yet.

15. The Balnaves Family LY 18 | +3

Balnaves to do list: fund 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; support Australia’s representation at the Venice Biennale; provide ferries gratis for punters at the Biennale of Sydney; donate art works to galleries and museums. Check, check and check. DONE.

14. Ben Quilty LY 14 | –

Ben Quilty began his year with an exhibition at Pearl Lam in Hong Kong, followed up by Art Basel Hong Kong. Shortly after, his name became prominent in daily newspapers when he was personally connected with the campaign to prevent the imminent execution of two Australians in Indonesia. Despite Quilty’s powerful and protracted attempts to come to their rescue, Bali Nine members Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, the former of whom had been mentored as an artist by Quilty for some time, were executed in April. While we’re guessing that his subsequent nomination as NSW State Finalist for Australian of the Year might be the last thing on Quilty’s mind, his actions as campaigner have certainly brought increased attention. According to the stats, he’s now the second most publicly recognised living artist (after Ken Done). As for his day job, Quilty’s latest show with Jan Murphy at Sydney Contemporary sold out before the opening. Seen fraternising with celebs like David Wenham, Quilty must have been the only artist with a queue of art lovers lined up and keen to chat. Underneath all that he’s the same old BBQ to us.

13. Gerard Vaughan NEW

Just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in: as Gerard Vaughan was settling down to a quite life in academia he was lured back to the art world to head up the National Gallery of Australia, an institution that needed a calm voice to talk to politicians, celebrities and the public, and to restore its badly depleted levels of bow ties. Under his directorship Vaughn has overseen some grand projects such as the James Turrell retrospective and the Tom Roberts blockbuster, as well as solo shows by artists including Fiona Hall and Ken & Julia Yonetani.

12. Julie Lomax LY 12 | –

No sooner had we completed the Power Trip that the news broke that along with their end of year funding announcements at the Australia Council, Julie Lomax was leaving. Lomax has been big on supporting Australian artists on the international stage, when interviewed as one of 15 international ‘art-insiders’ by the Art Newspaper for their pick of the Venice Biennale, she lost no time promoting Australian artists including Fiona Hall, Daniel Boyd, Marco Fusinato and Emily Floyd. While Lomax worked behind the scenes at Ozco and roamed the country and the globe to attend the opening of every envelope – sorry, exhibition – while spruiking Australian art, much of her influence is achieved on Twitter where she has thousands of followers and is always included at the top of those ‘who to follow’ lists. Wherever Lomax ends up post OzCo it’ll no doubt be on the back of her considerable art world influence.

11. John Kaldor LY 5 | – 6

It turns out you can get pushed out of the top ten by new entries to the Power Trip, but that hasn’t lessened John Kaldor’s commitment to his projects. In 2015 Kaldor Projects hosted Marina Abramovic In Residence – and event that saw the magical artist cover her followers in her special brand of performance art pixie dust – and French choreographer and artist Xavier Le Roy whose live art project Temporary Title 2015 at Carriageworks proved one more the popularity of good looking naked people doing things. In 2016 we’ll see the realisation of Jonathan Jones’s Very Good Idea Kaldor Project, a large-scale installation sculpture in Sydney’s Botanic Gardens reimagining the Garden Palace that stood there in the 19th century. We don’t know if nudity will be involved but we expect it will be very good.

10. Tony Ellwood LY 5 | – 5

Despite his comment in The Australian that, “Whether we’re the most attended or not is immaterial”, Tony Ellwood’s spot in the top 50 is all in the figures. The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), of which he is Director, tops the list in Australia for its public attendance numbers – an enviable 2.3 million visitors last financial year. The 12 per cent increase, aided by the NGV’s twin sites and predictable blockbusters like The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier and the 88k contingent of ‘mums, dads and bubs’ who visited Express Yourself! Romance Was Born for Kids were tempered by the well-reviewed Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great. Alongside the blockbusters there were wonderful shows for Australian artists including Emily Floyd, Robert Jacks and John Wolseley in addition to Jamie North’s Rock Melt and Jess Johnson’s recently opened Wurm House. Raising the bar with this summer’s exhibition draw cards are a couple of A-type artists you may have heard of – Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei.

09. Rupert Myer NEW

Chair of the Australia Council for the Arts and generous arts philanthropist, Rupert Myer moves into the Top 10 as a consequence of his robust stand on George Brandis’ proposed cuts to ‘redirect’ $105 million from the Australia Council to his own pet projects. After choking on his breakfast (while still in Europe celebrating the opening of the new Australia Pavilion in Venice) upon hearing of the Minister’s plan, Myer told The Australian that the Brandis proposal would “damage Australia’s culture”.

08. Roslyn Oxley LY 12 | +4

Those who always said our suggestion that Roslyn Oxley Gallery 9 might close one day was crazy have been proven right by the apparent invincibility of both the gallery, its multi-generational stable of artists and its indefatigable director herself. Anyone who saw Oxley being wheeled around Sydney Contemporary by her husband Tony with a look of mad glee on her face – and her white hair in the wind – realised this is Roslyn Oxley’s world, we just live in it.

07. Barry Keldoulis LY 7 | –

Barry Keldoulis has been writing the songs all year. When the bells all ring and the horns all blow he recognised that he was on to a good thing as Tim Etchell’s right hand man and stuck to the job. Knowing that it’s all in the game Barry pulled off another successful and well-managed 2015 Sydney Contemporary Art Fair. That is apart from the drink prices – although we at TAL, unlike many others, guess there aint no Santa Claus. He’s a star who may be halfway over the hill, don’t get around much anymore but count[s] his blessings. In the meantime, given he’s just cracked another gig as Director of Art Month Sydney 2016, we’ve just got that feeling that everything’s going to be alright. And, by the way, Barry wants to know, what are you doing New Year’s Eve?

06. Elizabeth Ann Macgregor LY 9 | + 3

We’ve got nothing but admiration for this gutsy Scot. One of the few women at the top of her field in Australia, having completed the renos on Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) with Simon Mordant’s money, she’s still been hard at work lobbying the pollies – even accepting an invitation to travel to China with Tony Abbott and being a guest on the ABC’s Q and A. She hasn’t left the corporates alone either. In late September, the MCA announced a deal with Qantas and London’s Tate Gallery to establish a $2.75 million gift from the Qantas Foundation to purchase post-1960s Australian works across all media for acquisition by both galleries. Like many of the directors of large overseas galleries, Macgregor has taken up Instagram providing followers a behind-the-scenes view of what’s happening at the MCA.

05. Besen Family LY 5 | –

The Besen Family has been collecting art since the 1950s and responsible for the opening of the TarraWarra Museum in 2003, Australia’s first privately funded art museum. Today Marc and Eva Besen and daughter Naomi Milgrom sit on the board of trustees of the Besen Foundation, a trust that give grants to arts and cultural organisations in Victoria for operations including exhibitions, catalogues, commissions, exhibitions, publications and symposia. Meanwhile Milgrom’s MPavilion sites architectural and art installations in Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Gardens, and commissions slightly controversial projects like Hany Armanious’s giant milk crate, and Amanda Levete’s lovely resin petal pergola.

04. Simon Mordant LY 2 | – 2

Named along with his wife Catriona as one of the Top 200 Art Collectors Worldwide in 2015 by, Simon Mordant continues to also be one of the most powerful behind-the-scenes art world people in Australia. As the commissioner for the Australian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, Mordant has a significant influence on artist’s careers as well as their international profiles thanks to his membership on the international councils for Tate Modern in London and MoMa and the New Museum in New York. Back home he’s also the chairman of the board at the MCA, Sydney.

David Walsh

03. David Walsh LY 1 | – 2

Eventually you must run out of worlds to conquer. David Walsh, owner of middlebrow tourist pile the Museum of Old and New Art, got into a stoush over his plans to open MONAco, a boutique, high-rollers casino to be built at the gallery’s fortress-of-solitude-like location up river in Hobart. With an annual loss at MONA of $6 million per year, the money has to come from somewhere. Things got complicated when the Federal Group, owner of Tasmania’s two already operating casinos and who hold a monopoly gambling license guaranteed until 2023 – as well as all of the island state’s poker machines – lobbied the state government that if MONAco got the go ahead, they could keep their state wide monopoly for as long as Walsh’s casino existed. Walsh scuppered the whole casino idea telling the ABC’s 7.30 that poker machines were an insidious evil perpetrated by rich people on the poor. As a professional gambler who uses his winnings to support his art empire, Walsh knows what he’s talking about. “I’ve not had any negative feedback,” Walsh said. “Everyone’s saying, ‘Go you good thing, this is great, the pokies have been bringing down Tassie for too long, it’s nice to see someone taking a stance’, buying me a beer, offering me lifts.” This hasn’t got a lot to do with art – but a lot to do with influence and power.

02. Tim Etchells NEW

Leaping into number 2 spot as our highest new entry of the year is Tim Etchells. Head of SME London Ltd and the more recently formed Single Market Events Pty Limited (Australia), Etchells’ companies produce events ranging from celebrity food roadshows to fashion expos. In 2008, Etchells founded the Hong Kong Art Fair (later purchased by Art Basel) and is Director of the Sydney Contemporary Art Fair, first launched two years ago and repeated at Carriageworks in September. According to SMH reports, the $14 million take over five days amounted to record sales for an Australian art fair. Noted in particular, were sales of work by Ben Quilty, Karen Black, Danie Mellor, Natasha Bieniek and, of course, an “upsurge in sales of ceramics” [hello Glenn Barkley]. At around the same time, Etchells’ 20 year contract to run the Melbourne Art Fair mystified many outsiders when it ended in divorce with the MAF’s Anna Pappas citing the fact that there was no need for a “big personality” to run the MAF. In art world swings and roundabouts however, another Etchells’ company, Art Fairs Australia (AFA), was later appointed to run Art Month Sydney 2016. Taking over from Paul Becker’s 10 Group, AFA is keeping Director Barry Keldoulis and his team rather busy. What’s in it for Etchells? At the opening of Sydney Contemporary he noted that, “the artist is the recipient of these sales and that’s the important thing to me.”

Judith Neilsen

01. Judith Neilson LY 16 | +15

After her split from husband Kerr Nelson, the Australian Financial Review reported that Judith Neilson walked away from the marriage with an estimated $1.25 billion personal fortune. While Nielson and the Nielson Foundation have already made a huge impact on the Australian art world, becoming the principal patron of the Biennale of Sydney, and the not so small matter of her hugely successful private art museum White Rabbit, there is the soon to rise Phoenix: with more than $70 million invested in a new contemporary art gallery, performance space and twin residence for visiting artists, the Central Park, Sydney gallery will compliment White Rabbit in Chippendale and create a mini art empire on the edge of Sydney’s CBD. One thing is for certain, we are living in a new age of private art philanthropy – and Nielson as right out there at the front of it.

The Art Life


  1. Cj

    Take me the fuck off this list…who gives three fucks

    Apologies for the earlier reply – we thought you were a subscriber of the email list, not ON the list. So don’t worry, you’ll be off it in no time – sincerely The Fucking Art Life

  2. Maybe I need a higher profile in 2016?? Happy to take CJ’s spot if its on offer.

    Big Lamington
    Australia’s best known anonymous art blogger named after a fictional roadside attraction.

  3. Simon

    Besen, not Bessen.

  4. Pingback: The Power Trip 2017: The Most Powerful People in the Australian Art World – The Art Life

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.