The Power Trip 2012

Art Life , Stuff Dec 10, 2012 11 Comments

The Art Life’s inaugural list of the fifty most powerful people in the Australian art world…

What makes a person powerful? We thought long and hard about that question as we compiled our inaugural list. Money equals power – that’s a given – but money alone doesn’t necessarily buy influence. Putting up the money makes things happen, for sure, but having an input into how it’s spent, and on whom, makes all the difference between your average One Percenter and a true patron of the arts. The top of our list is crowded with people who have the money and smarts to make a difference.

Another type of power is the kind that comes from being in the right job with the opportunity to spend other people’s money, exercise your taste, judgement and discernment while travelling the country making decisions. We have quite a few of those on our list too.

And finally there is the illusion of power – people with the chutzpah to build a public profile out of not very much but make it count. Call them tastemakers, agitators, commentators, or just troublemakers – they deserve a place.

The list was complied used complicated algorithms and voodoo by the editors of The Art Life.

Now, let’s start the countdown…

50. Charles “Chiller” Waterstreet

Celebrity silk Charles Waterstreet’s connection to the art world is a two-pronged attack: on the one hand he’s available 24/7 to keep bad boys out of jail while on the other he’s at their funerals to offer a nice line in eulogies [that can be repurposed as columns for the Sun Herald]. The bespectacled eccentric can also offer his thoughts in writing as well as stirring oration or sit quietly as a portrait subject.

49. Lisa Paulsen

Lisa Paulsen is a prime example of the younger generation of collector who reached tipping point with their personal acquisition practice and wanted to become an active player in the high-stakes game of the art world. She holds formal positions at the MCA and is involved with the Australian contingent at next year’s Venice Biennale.

48. Kent Buchanan

The Western Plains Cultural Centre might be way beyond the edges of the ‘Sandstone Curtain’ but it’s one of the most energetic and forward-looking of NSW’s regional galleries. Curator Kent Buchanan brings contemporary art to the people of the West and stages shows by international artists as well mounting travelling shows from the ARI circuit.

47. Dick Quan

For collectors to be influential they have to move up to that more exalted position of patron, people who not only spend their money on art but also make things happen. Quan is a patron in the truest sense, supporting the careers of young artists and facilitating unlikely but visionary efforts such as staging AES&F’s Feast of Trimalchio at Bathurst Regional Gallery.

46. Susi Muddiman

Tweed River Art Gallery isn’t all that easy to find: it’s hidden down a side road on the outskirts of the small border town of Murwillumbah. A wealth of patrons and thousands of Gallery Friends have meant this NSW Regional Gallery constantly punches above its weight, with innovative exhibitions and shows by well-known artists. One of the major reasons for this is Susi Muddiman, the Director since 2007. Muddiman makes friends easily and cultivates a welcoming atmosphere. Her coup for 2012 was securing a major donation from the Margaret Olley Art Trust to build a special extension to the Gallery in memory of the late artist.

45. Melissa Loughnan

The evolution of Utopian Slumps from cool artist-run initiative to bespoke commercial gallery would be enough to mark out Melissa Loughnan as one of the more influential young gallerists in Australia, but the fact that she’s been nominated on numerous lists of hip, influential and happening indicates that she’s being watched too. All of that publicity tends to obscure the fact that, despite limited resources and just ten years in the trade, Loughnan’s gallery is already thought of as being on the same plane as Anna Schwartz or Jan Minchin’s Tolarno.

44. Vasili Kaliman

One might argue that Vasili Kaliman’s influence stems from his gallery collaboration Kaliman-Rawlins and his energetic embrace of all things new and shiny. We would not be arguing that case. Having a gallery is one thing; having social media muscle counts for a lot more. With thousands of followers of his Twitter accounts, web sites and blogs, Kaliman is tastemaker just doing it for love. And if art-related social media in 2012 is remembered for anything it’ll be Kaliman breaking the news of Tim Storrier’s Archibald win hours before the official announcement – the first time such a thing has ever happened.

43. Michael Zavros & Alison Kubler

If you only had one life to live, you’d want to live it like Michael Zavros & Alison Kubler, he the immaculately besuited contemporary artist plus chic, she the poised curator par excellence . Can style, grace and being in the right place equal power and influence? As Sarah Palin once put it, you betcha!

42. Max Delany

Newly appointed to the role of senior curator at the National Gallery of Victoria, Max Delany brings with him a wealth of experience and influence within the Australian art world. As a former director of Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces and as curator at Heide, as well his eight-year tenure at the Monash University Museum of Art, Delany is a fresh face at the NGV, and an Australian one as well. As part of Tony Ellwood’s push for more contemporary art at the hallowed institution, Delany’s influence will surely be felt once more.

41. Ursula Sullivan & Joanna Strumpf

The nice ladies of the not-always-so-nice commercial gallery sector, Joanna and Ursula, through hard graft rather than family money, have built a solid stable that includes Sam Leach and Laith McGregor. Their ambitions for their artists are always greater than that for themselves, which has won them the respect and support of many heavyweight collectors and arts professionals.

40. Tamara Winikoff

Tamara Winnikoff’s power is derived from enhancing the power of others. As Executive Director of the National Association for the Visual Arts she advocates for artists and the sector more broadly, especially in relation to policy and legislation; or to put it in technical terms, she tries to push shit up hill.

39. Lisa Havilah

She’s gone from a regional arts centre in Campbelltown to a disused rail yard in Redfern. It may not sound like an impressive career arc but as CEO of Carriageworks Havilah oversees perhaps the most important cultural hub in Australia for contemporary arts practices.

38. Sam Leach/Ashley Crawford

Take a fresh-faced artist in the first blush of critical and commercial success and team him with a world weary arts writer and critic who has been beaten against the sharper edges of the art world and what do you get? Not Fair – an alternative satellite event to the official Melbourne Art Fair. It’s just had its second run is looking like being an important player in the burgeoning Oz art fair calendar.

37. Jeff Khan & Bec Dean

Not since the Captain and Tennille has there been a cuter, more harmonious duo. And in their synergistic roles as directors of Performance Space they have turned that institution into one of the most dynamic centres for inter-disciplinary arts practice in the country.

36. Philip Bacon

Philip Bacon AM is the owner of Brisbane’s landmark gallery first established in 1974 in the height of the Joh era. As well as being a successful businessman Bacon is also a well-known philanthropist and Member of the NGA Foundation Board. Bacon has been a powerhouse in the Brisbane art scene for many years and assisted in bringing to national prominence many Queensland artists including Ian Fairweather and William Robinson. His gallery stable includes a who’s who of established Australian artists. Most recently in the news as an Executor and Trustee of the Margaret Olley Art Trust, Bacon recently announced the building of a major extension to the Tweed River Art Gallery in Honour of the late artist.

35. Michael Reid

Self-styled new media guru Michael Reid is the dynamic-doer of the Sydney commercial gallery sector. He’s au fait with social media and regularly crowd sources his latest ideas. This year he set up pop up galleries and held an exhibition in Berlin while he and his team also organise well-attended artist dinners and talks. Reid was also one of the initiators of Art Month Sydney, now in it’s fourth year and going strong, and just as we went to press Reid announced the opening in 2013 of a permanent Reid operation in Berlin… We’re exhausted just thinking about it.

34. Daniel Mudie Cunningham

He’s the polymorphously-perverse polymath of Australian art, whose puppyish enthusiasm for sniffing out the next big thing makes him ideal for the job of Senior Curator of Art Bank. Daniel Mudie Cunningham’s known for having his finger on the quick pulse of the emerging art scene and his job gives him the power to have his free hand on a big fat government cheque book.

33. Glenn Barkley

Despite resisting The Art Life’s campaign to have him known simply as “Gnarls”, the Museum of Contemporary Art curator Glenn Barkley’s career has been on the up since joining the harbour side pleasure dome in 2008. With a host of top line shows to Barkley’s credit – most recently the MCA-Heide collaboration Ken Whisson: As If – his major effort was Volume One: MCA Collection the first time many works from the gallery’s collection have seen the light of day since they were acquired. Making sense of the collection was a major achievement and the result was a stunning insight into Australian contemporary art since the ‘80s. Just makes you wish Australian galleries did that sort of thing more often.

32. Alexi Glass-Kantor

Gertrude Contemporary retains its position as one of the country’s leading galleries thanks in no small part to Alexi Glass-Kantor, its senior curator. Under her direction the gallery has maintained its high quality exhibition program which in the last year included shows by Anastasia Klose, Laith MacGregor, Tom Polo and the group show City Within The City. Glass-Kantor also co-curated with the Adelaide Biennial 2012 with Natasha Bullock.

31. Nick Mitzevich

Nick Mitzevich has breathed new life into the Art Gallery of South Australia and the SA state government is putting its money where his mouth is. As a result, Mitzevich has been able to prosecute an ambitious programming agenda that has attracted both new audiences and big money donors to the gallery.

30. Julie Ewington

Julie Ewington’s most recent project CONTEMPORARY AUSTRALIA: WOMEN at the Gallery of Modern Art was a blockbuster that, for all its good intentions, may have only further highlighted sexism in the arts – but the show certainly showcased the power this female curator at one of Australia’s top contemporary art institutions.

29. Amanda Love

Amanda Love is an art advisor with a high-end client list that includes hotel chains and law firms to data storage facilities and private collectors. Aside from serving on the board of the Biennale of Sydney Love’s private collection has been exhibited. While her true influence and power may simply come from doing her job, where Love goes others follow, and that sounds like a line from her theme song… And how many other Australian art advisors who can genuinely claim to have an actual YBA living at the bottom of their gardens?

28. John Oster

As one of the architects of the Indigenous Art Code and now its CEO, Oster is responsible for keeping the bastards honest in a sector riddled with rip-off merchants and carpetbaggers. The Code may not have teeth, but it’s a compelling force and he’s the keeper of the secrets of the lucrative indigenous commercial gallery sector.

27. Susan Borham

As editor-in-chief of Australian Art Collector, Susan Borham presides over one of Australia’s most commercially successful art magazines. After seeing off its only serious rival Art World in 2009, AAC continues to be one of the most widely thumbed magazines in the country – and while the cool kids want coverage in Frieze, their gallerists know an ad in Art Collector is the place to be.

26. Wayne Tunnicliffe

Ignore everything you hear about the internal politics of the Art Gallery of NSW because at the end of the day all that really matters is what’s on show, and that’s why head curator of Australian art Wayne Tunnicliffe deserves a spot on this list. Promoted to the top job in 2011, Tunnicliffe’s work as curator includes major survey shows of the work of Tim Johnson and the late Adam Cullen, exhibitions by Robert Owen and Tracey Emin and more than 70 Contemporary Project Space shows. As head curator Tunnicliffe’s tenure represents a badly needed generational change at the gallery, a fresh vision that will determine not only exhibitions but also acquisitions.

25. Martin Browne

If any commercial gallerist deserves to be listed here it is Martin Browne. Where every other gallery at Browne’s level is in lock-down just to survive the post-GFC slump, Browne upped the ante with a move to bigger premises and healthy sales thanks to shows by gallery stalwarts including McLean Edwards, Neil Frazer and Alexander McKenzie. With a canny understanding of the market, and a bespoke service for clients, Browne has used his insider knowledge to make timely secondary market purchases of his own. Unconvinced? Try this fun fact: without Martin Browne the career of Shaun Gladwell would be nowhere near its current star status.

24. Richard Bell

A self-described show-off, Richard Bell has been using his artistic practice to agitate for change in the political sphere for many years while becoming a spokesman for Aboriginal artists. In 2011 he provoked outcry by deciding the winner of the Sulman Prize by the toss of a coin – and filming the entire episode for YouTube. Bell, a member of the urban ‘Proppa Now’ art collective in Brisbane with Vernon Ah Kee and several other prominent artists, is also an activist who’s willing to put his money where his mouth is, and that’s why he’s probably the most powerful artist in the Australian art world right now.

23. Tony Stephens

After the unfortunate dissolution of Sydney gallery GrantPirrie, former GP gallery manager Tony Stephens was without portfolio. But his appointment as director of Artbank, replacing the much-respected Geoff Cassidy, puts him in one of the most powerful positions in Australian art. With a remit to purchase works by Australian artists at all levels – and then loan them out to businesses and government – few organisations aside from the Australia Council have such a direct influence on careers and incomes. With the charming Mr. Stephens at the helm, all eyes are on Artbank’s future purchasing policies.

22. Eleonora Triguboff

Being member of the board of trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW would certainly confer a degree of influence and power in the Australian art world, not least for the fact that this august body determines the winner of the accursed Archibald Prize. But aside from the two artists on the board [currently Lindy Lee and just-announced member Ben Quilty] Eleonora Triguboff is the only other member with actual hands-on experience as an artist. And there’s the matter of her role as publisher and editor-in-chief of Art & Australia, the self-styled journal of record for the notoriously amnesiac art world. With her publishing projects including Current and the secondary school competition Artwrite, Triguboff is in a rare position to not only influence the direction of art as it is made now, but how it will be interpreted in the future.

21. Dr. Gene Sherman

When Emile Sherman, the producer of Oscar winning The King’s Speech, thanked his parents from the stage of the Academy Awards in 2011, it was a weird moment for anyone in the Australian art world – surely it should be Dr. Gene Sherman up there giving the speech? In 2008, the opening of the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation brought to fruition the gallerist’s long-standing dream of launching a centre of excellence, not just in exhibition, but also in education and scholarship. Although Sherman’s public profile has dimmed slightly since the heady days of her twin galleries and their monthly shows, and the considerable advertising spend to promote them, the line up of exhibitions at SCAF at her Goodhope Street space has been formidable.

20. Hetti Perkins

Hetti Perkins chucked in her job-for-life at the Art Gallery of NSW as Senior Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art in 2011 after thirteen years, claiming a chronic failure by the museum to deliver on its promises relating to indigenous art projects. To outsiders who know nothing of the bitter divisions and sometimes-nasty politics hidden behind the genteel facades of our public art institutions, the timing seemed bizarre. Perkins’ had just overseen the triple threat production of Art + Soul, an almost year-long exhibition, multi-part TV series and book exploring the diversity of Indigenous culture. She’s currently an artist-in-residence at Bangarra Dance Company and is considered one of the most experienced and well-connected arts professionals in the indigenous arts sector.

19. The Balnaves Family

The Balnaves Family have given more cash to the Australian arts sector than the Liberal Party has ever tried to take away. The Foundation is Exhibition Patron of Sculpture by the Sea, is a Major Partner for the Australian Pavillion at the Venice Biennale and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, and the Biennale of Sydney, and sponsors a series of exhibitions at AGNSW. Oh, and Neil Balnaves gave $1 million worth of art to the Mosman Art Gallery.

18. John McDonald

Like it or not, the Sydney Morning Herald art critic John McDonald wields a great deal of influence in the Australian art world. And while you would have thought the slow demise of old media would diminish his power, the opposite has been true. McDonald is now the gatekeeper to the public acceptance of big shows at major galleries. A positive word from this esteemed critic will get the punters in while being ignored is the kiss of death for lesser galleries who rely on media coverage for their audience. McDonald’s enthusiastic embrace of all things Chinese proves that he’s not against contemporary art per se, he’s just not that into art made by most living Australian artists.

17. Julie Lomax

While we all like to believe we live in a meritocracy, whether in the real world or just in the pretendy one where arts professionals reside, unless you actually get an Australia Council grant you know that’s not really true. Julie Lomax is able to exercise enormous influence over the OzCo Board as its most senior advisor, and that cashes out into real power. Lomax is a formidable force, engaged across the sector on a national level, dealing with policy at a moment of great uncertainty where OzCo is headed. And Lomax was once on The Times’ list of the 30 most powerful people in the art world, so who are we to argue?

16. Anna Schwartz

With her architectural hair and a no-nonsense business sense, Anna Schwartz sits at the centre of one of the Australian art world’s centres of gravity, a place where the confluence of money, power, influence and taste have an inescapable attraction. With two enormous galleries in Sydney and Melbourne and a line up of artists that includes Australian stalwarts [Dale Frank, Shaun Gladwell, John Nixon] and international stars [Antony Gormley, AES&F, Yinka Shonibare MBE], Schwartz’s gallery ranks internationally. And with a husband ‘in publishing’ and intimate family connections to collectors, as well as representation at numerous international art fairs, it’s kind of hard to imagine the Australian art world without Anna Schwartz.

15. Marcus Westbury

For a guy with a professed disinterest in art [being far more fascinated in the world of ‘not quite art’] Westbury’s Renew Newcastle campaign to make creative use of dormant commercial real estate has grown from the capital of the Hunter Region, to Sydney and Melbourne and now around the world. This winning idea has had a huge impact on the careers of literally hundreds of new and emerging artists, and with the Renew model being picked up internationally, Westbury has been burning up the air miles on a seemingly never-ending promo tour. Westbury was also able to amass his formidable social media following to shame the NSW State Government into restoring Renew’s funding after yet another dunderheaded budget cut exercise – and to win The Art Life’s Most Powerful Person popular poll vote.

14. Juliana Engberg

The slightly scary Juliana Engberg has ruled as the curatorial director of Melbourne’s Australian Centre for Contemporary Art for longer than most people can remember. And she’s used her power for good, devising exhibitions and promoting Australian art to the world, and her influence is said to have played a major role in the development of the careers of artists such as Patricia Piccinini. Although the title of the only Melbourne Biennale Signs of Life in 1999 proved unfortunately ironic, Engberg’s involvement put her in contention as one of the most influential Australian curators, later serving as the curator of the visual arts programs for the Edinburgh International Arts Festival and as Senior Curatorial Advisor for the Australian presentations at the Venice Biennale in 2007. Engberg will serve as artistic director of the next Biennale of Sydney in 2014. She once remarked that, “…curating is somewhat like being a movie director.” We have two years to wait to find out what kind of movie the BOS will be – let’s hope it’s more Life of Pi than Dawn of the Dead.

13. Roslyn Oxley

Celebrating the pearl anniversary of her gallery, Roslyn Oxley has been one of the stalwarts of the contemporary art scene since 1982. Her gallery represents several generations of key Australian artists with an emphasis on highly professional practice and peerless presentation. With husband Tony Oxley and with entrée to A-list donors and supporters, the duo are also key members of the Contemporary Benefactors group at the Art Gallery of NSW, influencing the purchasing of new work for the collection which, cannily, has included pieces by her own artists. Sweet.

12. Andrew Cameron

Andrew Cameron is a classic example of the younger generation of Oz art collectors turned philanthropists who wanted to do more than just hand over a cheque to an institution – they’ve become the game changers actively involved in how their money is spent. Cameron held formal positions on many boards, including the Biennale of Sydney and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. He’s also a past chair of AGNW’s Contemporary Collection’s Benefactor’s Group and was Australia’s Deputy Commissioner for three Venice Biennales. But he’s more than just a rich guy with a lot of dumb money – smart early purchases included Shaun Gladwell’s now iconic Storm Sequence and the work of such critically acclaimed artists as Daniel Crooks, TV Moore, and Jess McNeil. He’s not only a big donor of works to public institutions; he’s an equally big advocate for contemporary art with critical significance.

11. Michael Brand

Hang on, Michael Brand hasn’t done anything yet has he? Quite true – at this point the newly arrived director of the Art Gallery of NSW is still in transition mode, with little public visibility save for fronting the media for the recent opening of the Bacon show – and to defend in the press the $2 million in staffing cuts mandated by the arts-hostile NSW State Government. Brand’s power and influence is all just theoretical, but given the 30-year plus reign of his predecessor Edmund Capon, anything that Brand does will have a long term effect not just in Sydney, but on the entire Australian museum sector. Refreshed exhibition, collecting and curatorial policies could drive the AGNSW in exciting new directions – or maybe it’ll just be business as usual.

10. Tony Ellwood

Tony Ellwood is regularly mentioned at the top of lists of arts and cultural “influentials” but he’s at number 10 as a result of his recent move from Director of the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, where he helped catapult Brisbane from its ‘Pig City’ image to become a major player in the international art world [with 1.8 million visitors to the complex in 2010], to his new post in Melbourne to head the National Gallery of Victoria. While Brisbane is still partly in mourning and the QAG yet to appoint a permanent Director, Ellwood has an ambitious new vision for Victoria’s largest Gallery. In a speech to the Melbourne Press Club in August this year, he promised, to consider holes in the collection. “I believe there is a critical need to address the Gallery’s holdings of contemporary art where there are some significant gaps. Contemporary art matters”, Ellwood said. Whether Ellwood can hold sway on a much bigger stage is yet to be seen.

9. Elizabeth Ann Macgregor

Since taking up the directorship of the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1999 Elizabeth Ann Macgregor has become a key player, not just in Sydney, but around the country and the world too. With regular appearances in the media, perhaps talking up the opening of the long-anticipated Mordant Wing in mid 2012, or maybe the importance of the Biennale [of which the MCA is now is the greater part of the mainland museum component], Macgregor is a charming and forthright voice for contemporary art, offering counter to the professional haters. The other of Macgregor’s key claims to power is her membership of the selection committee for Documenta that put former Biennale of Sydney curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev into the hot seat as curator of Documenta13. Aside from giving a leg leg up to a number of Australian artists who scored a prestigious spot in the exhibition’s line up, Macgregor’s influence now means a stint as BOS artistic director is a step up the international art ladder.

8. David Gonski

If Quentin Tarantino were casting Gonski in a role, he’d be assigned the part Harvey Kietel’s played in Pulp Fiction, the cool, calm and collected Mr. Wolf. Gonski’s ability to play Mr. Fix It to both the private sector and government puts him in unusually influential position. Sydney Morning Herald columnist Malcolm Knox once said of the art world’s best-connected man that if he were to draw a self-portrait, Gonski “would get more use out of an eraser than a pencil”. Gonski has a swag of appointments and board memberships including serving as the President of the Trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW and Chair of the Australian Council, NIDA and Film Australia. But he remains best known for heading the federal government inquiry into education – the Gonski review being the first of its kind in forty years, and if his recommendations are implemented, will have a direct influence on the future [or not] of art education.

7. Peter Fay

Peter Fay is one of those rare birds whose power comes from having no interest in using it. He’s been kicking around the art scene forever collecting art and mentoring artists and he remains most comfortable at its edges where the line between art and life is most fuzzy. He’s ended up patronizing both some of Australia’s biggest art stars like Ricky Swallow and Adam Cullen as well as those who make what the establishment likes to call ‘outsider art’. He’s amassed a mongrel collection that reflects his love and commitment to the mixed breed of artists he believes in; it’s a love and commitment that the contemporary art world feels just as keenly for the bloke who is the greatest champion of what they do… and why they do it. Want proof? Cop a look at Bacon’s Dog, the confronting video work by friend and artist Dani Marti that features Fay post-coitus, languishing naked on a bed, discussing his sexuality. It proves Fay’s claim that, “I think you have to be open enough to see something that causes your knees to shake, whether it be in the gutter or anywhere”.

6. Allan Myers

In a rare interview a couple of years ago in which he got philosophical about his life Allan Myers reflected: ”I guess I am not at the beginning of my life, so I suppose the longer I am given there will be a lot of changes in the next five, 10, 20 years. In that time I’ll just do what I can, drink as much red wine, smoke as many cigars and read as many good books as I can.” Lucky for the contemporary art world, one of Australia’s most successful lawyers – his wealth has been pegged at three quarters of a billion dollars – Myers also plans to continue with his philanthropic pursuits. He is one of a number of arts patrons who has recently become more public about their donations in order to encourage other wealthy individuals to open their wallets. The QC is not only President of the NGV Council of Trustees, he signed over a $10 million cheque to the museum.

5. David Walsh

With his professional gambling businesses David Walsh managed to reap millions of dollars from blackjack, Keno and horseracing and use it build an art empire. Perched atop a hill in Hobart, the Museum of Old and New Art dominates the surrounding suburbs and attracts art tourists who flock to see Walsh’s impressive [if eclectic] art collection, sample his wines and sleep in his luxurious accommodation. And now that Walsh has had a settlement in his dispute with the Australian Tax Office, the eccentric Tasmanian multi-millionaire must source the $8 million needed to keep open his Hobart bunker [against an annual operating cost of $12 million] -and all this while continuing his eccentric collecting habits aided and abetted by a crack team of curatorial advisors. But the greatest trick of all however is Walsh’s ability to take money out of the pockets of mug punters and then convince them that MONA is for everyone. Locals get in free, which is just as well since they’re the ones most likely to have actually paid for it.

4. Luca Belgiorno-Nettis

The Belgiorno-Nettis family has a proud history of philanthropy that young Luca Belgiorno-Nettis is determined to continue, an effort that has seen him honored and awarded. Belgiorno-Nettis isn’t just a businessman with a big chequebook, he’s a trained architect, read Greek philosophy, is passionate about political reform, and he’s got the good looks of a London restaurateur. But it’s in his role as Chairman of the Biennale of Sydney that Belgiorno-Nettis has the most influence in the Australian art world – as the country’s only biennale, and with its headline events, visiting international artists and curators, the BOS remains a key focus of contemporary art activity.

3. John Kaldor

It’s hard to grasp the imagination it took to stage Christo and Jean-Claude’s Wrapped Coast – One Million Square Feet back in 1968. Even by today’s standards, funding a contemporary art project that involved wrapping two-and-a-half kilometres of coast and cliffs up to 26 metres high in fabric and rope would seem radical. For this reason alone, John Kaldor remains unique among collector-philanthropists who have played an active role in how their money is spent. He’s been a visionary guy, and a committed one through Kaldor Public Art Projects. This has been recognised with some pretty fancy appointments with public institutions such as P.S.1 in New York, the Tate Modern, London, Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Biennale of Sydney, and as Chair of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. He is also a founding member of the Board of the Power Institute of Contemporary Art and was Commissioner for the Australian Pavilion at Venice in 2005 and 2007. If all that wasn’t enough, he gifted his $35 million art collection to AGNSW, causing most of us to rejoice, and some of us to lay down our yoga mats in protest over the public display of the male-artist dominated collection.

2. Simon Crean

After a period of being relaxed and comfortable about being philistines, Australian returned Labor to the seat of power. Kevin 07’s Summer of Love included a 2020 Love In starring Cate Blanchett and the appointment of the Minister for Dancing Like Ian Curtis. When the wheels fell off Kev’s Kombi, Simon Crean was appointed Minister for the Arts. Not since Whitlam and Keating have we had a politician so determined to animate a national debate about the arts sector and reshape Australian cultural life. Crean’s National Cultural Policy recognizes the creative industries in the broadest of senses and the economic benefits it implies. Of course, like all political endeavours, this one’s going to be all about delivery. If his recent performance as a freestyle rapper at the launch of an arts initiative in Sydney’s West to a re-mix of Vanilla Ice’s Ice, Ice Baby is anything to go by, you wouldn’t put much money on Crean’s NCP going anywhere. Then again, Vanilla Ice is now a home renovating guru, so the bet is even. ’“Everybody in the house, can I hear you say, ‘It’s Time’.”

1. Simon Mordant

It wasn’t so long ago that power in the Australian contemporary art world was concentrated in the hands of a few museum directors, curators and high-end gallery owners. But with an expanded market came the opportunity for collectors to get in on the game. Simon Mordant has not only managed to take a seat at the table, he’s the now at the epicentre of the art world. He single-handedly reanimated the MCA, not only pumping $15 million of his personal wealth into the renovation and extension, but by getting government and other private donors to cough up, he made the long-discussed MCA sunroom a reality. Mordant is not only the Chairman of the Board of the MCA, he’s also the Venice Commissioner, is on 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. He’s the loveable Willy Wonka of the Australian art scene and everyone’s making themselves sick trying to find their golden ticket.

The Art Life


  1. This is a really fascinating and thought provoking list, a little artworld time capsule~

  2. Michael Harrison

    Salivating over this list guys, mmmmmnnn yum. Sexy Powerful Delicious.

  3. Bytetime

    huh, what, you are kidding – where are the real power brokers? Who wrote this FFS ? Sorry, don’t agree, missed a lot, promoted people who are all ego and little influence, boring….

  4. A concise, informative and inspirational depiction of our diverse Australian Art Scene. Congratulations to the fortunate 50 featured on the list as well as all other creatives who continuously contribute to or participate in our current Arts Industry.

  5. Carl Marks

    Its a load of shit is what it is

  6. Ben Fox

    There must have been some fun thoughtful and interesting conversations involved with putting this list together. Some stats and detailed information on the people would be interesting. Is this a list of people who have the power to get on lists…?

  7. Scott Redford

    Well no surprises here. In fact its a deeply depressing list to think this mob run the roost. No wonder Australia is nothing in International art circles. Mainly a list of pompous jumped up public servants who lord it over others for no real good reason. Take away the government funding and these people would have not even a snout between them let alone the trough!

    Australian Art = Government Art (me included)

    I look forward to a list of the most pressing art ideas. Now that could be interesting. But Australia is a wasteland for ideas hence its invisibility OS. Australia is only content to to be a consumer of art ideas and not a producer. The new Venice building (designed for Anna and Gene to swan about it) is perfect for Australia. A classic case of me-too-ism, keeping up with the Joneses. Same for the art they’ll no doubt fill it with: Marco Fustinato! Please….

  8. if nothing else, these lists provoke discussion.

    i’m intrigued to see that a list of the powerful in the artworld continues so few artists. those dedicated to making the art barely register. in the spirit of provoking discussion then, one can’t help but wonder: do artists not play an important (ie: powerful) role in this context? is the art being produced un-powerful (less powerful) or is the artist’s role in the social context with practical leverage?

    A good question Kent, and one that we discuss in the Art Life podcast – Art Life Management

  9. *without practical leverage?

  10. Call me a trouble maker, but this list is a load of old bollocks.

    Carl Marks got in ahead of you, but thanks for your thoughts Steve – Art Life Management

  11. Sandra McMahon

    It’s good to see the Regional Galleries represented in this list.

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