Collection + at the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation

Director Gene Sherman discusses the philanthropic foundation’s beginnings, and shares the motivation behind the new exhibition series “Collection +”

Sopheap Pich, Cocoon 2, 2011, Rattan, wire, burlap, beeswax with pigment. Collection: Gene & Brian Sherman. Photo: Brett Boardman 2013

Sopheap Pich, Cocoon 2, 2011, Rattan, wire, burlap, beeswax with pigment. Collection: Gene & Brian Sherman. Photo: Brett Boardman 2013

Lucy Rees: In 2008 you founded the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation — an organization dedicated to supporting and exhibiting contemporary art from Australia, the Asia Pacific region and the Middle East. Since then you have shown artists such as Ai Weiwei, Fiona Tan, Charwei Tsai, Yang Fudong, Dinh Q. Lee, Tokukin Yoshioka and SANAA. How did you first become involved with contemporary Asian art?

Gene Sherman: I was trained as an academic specializing in early 20th-century French literature. Our arrival in Sydney from South Africa in 1976 coincided with then Prime Minister Keating’s decision to position Australia within the context of the Asia Pacific region — as opposed to constantly reaffirming ties with Great Britain. After I completed my doctorate I decided to open a gallery (Sherman Galleries) and focus on the contemporary art of this region. Since then I have visited Japan alone 46 times. Frequent trips to Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and China were part of my annual routine in addition to intensive research in the newly burgeoning contemporary art scenes in India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Iran, Israel and Turkey.

Chiharu Shiota, Dialogue with absence (installation view), 2010. Pumps, tripods, dress, tubes, coloured electrical cables, glass test tubes, red liquid, dimensions variable. Collection: Gene & Brian Sherman, Sydney. Exhibition: 3 May - 8 June 2013. 

Chiharu Shiota, Dialogue with absence (installation view), 2010. Pumps, tripods, dress, tubes, coloured electrical cables, glass test tubes, red liquid, dimensions variable. Collection: Gene & Brian Sherman, Sydney. Exhibition: 3 May - 8 June 2013. 

LR: For your new “Collection+” exhibition series, an artist is selected from some 800 works in your private collection. A curatorium then searches nationally and internationally for significant related works to exhibit. The first artist in the series was Chiharu Shiota, and currently showing is an exhibition by the major Cambodian artist Sopheap Pich (October 4 – December 14). How did the idea of drawing upon your own collection come about?

GS: When first formulating SCAF’s vision I made the decision to totally exclude the Gene & Brian Sherman personal collection from the program. Most privately funded publicly accessible foundations rely solely — or significantly — on rotating exhibitions of work from the founders’ collections. I wanted to commission new work, to offer artists new, exciting and generously funded opportunities. This vision remains. However, organizations need to evolve. I came up simultaneously with the idea of two series: “Fugitive Structures” — a series of built pavilions in the Foundation’s Zen Garden; and “Collection +”. The focus remains, as always, on the artist. However, in this suite of shows the collectors sit side by side with the artist as cultural recipients and innovators in their own right.

Fugitive Structures SCAF Lucy Rees

LR: Can you tell us about your next project?

GS: The second “Fugitive Structures” launches SCAF’s 2014 program with a slightly modified brief. Selected architect(s) were asked to design work that could be produced via 3-D printing technology and robotic fabrication. Our second project for 2014 is titled “Home” and incorporates two major installations by two Taiwanese artists.