A major collection of Chinese art donated to La Trobe University by Australian economist, diplomat and distinguished alumnus Dr Geoff Raby AO is on public display for the first time.
Valued at $3.15 million, the collection is the largest cultural gift the University has ever received and now forms the exhibition In Our Time: Four Decades of Art from China and Beyond – The Geoff Collection Raby, which will open on Saturday August 20 at the Bendigo Art Gallery.
The Geoff Raby Chinese Art Collection comprises 174 objects collected over a 30-year period, including paintings, photographs, works on paper, ceramics, sculptures and textiles. It mainly features works created by contemporary Chinese artists since the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976.
La Trobe University Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar AO said he was delighted that these culturally and artistically significant works can now be enjoyed by the community.
“As well as being a major asset to the University’s wider collections, the Geoff Raby Collection is a very important resource for the University, contributing to our research and teaching, and complementing our strategic focus on Asia. and China,” Professor Dewar said.
“We are delighted that, through our longstanding partnership with the Bendigo Art Gallery, the greatest cultural gift to La Trobe University in its history is now on display for all to enjoy.”
La Trobe Art Institute director Bala Starr said the collection was very important.
“The Geoff Raby Collection reveals stylistic and thematic developments in contemporary art within the context of changing political ideologies, social conditions and cultural activities in China and Australia,” Ms. Starr said.
“It has been deeply gratifying to develop this exhibition at a time when understanding and cooperation between Australia and China has never been more urgent.
“Working with our partners at the Bendigo Art Gallery, we have been mindful of the cultural history of Bendigo and our diverse communities,” Ms. Starr said.
“We have presented several entry points for viewers, but also recognize the value of experiencing images and ideas that have no direct connection to our own lived experience.”
Jessica Bridgfoot, director of the Bendigo Art Gallery, said these complementary exhibits reveal the complexity and nuances of Chinese identities.
“Presented side-by-side with Treasures of Dai Gum San: Chinese art from the Golden Dragon Museum, the exhibition demonstrates the fundamental place that Chinese cultural tradition and history both held for the settler community of Bendigo’s early days. and for contemporary artists entering the international art scene of the early 2000s,” Ms. Bridgfoot said.
Dr. Raby began exploring the art scene and collecting in Beijing when he arrived in 1986 to serve as First Secretary, Head of the Economic Division, at the Australian Embassy.
The art was exhibited in “pop-ups” for brief periods in hotels in the Haidian district, and soon Dr. Raby and other supporters began to use their own apartments as exhibition venues.
Dr. Raby’s friendship and support for artists, often early in their careers, is seen as a factor in their progression and success.
Dr. Raby made the donation through the Cultural Gifts Program, a federal government initiative.
In Our Time: Four Decades of Art from China and Beyond – The Geoff Raby Collection will be on display from 20 Aug 22 to 19 Feb 23 at the Bendigo Art Gallery.
La Trobe University Cultural Collections
The Geoff Raby Collection of Chinese Art became the seventh low-key art collection held by La Trobe University; joining the existing combined holdings of over 10,000 objects recognized for their historical, cultural, community and educational significance.
A 2017 assessment of the significance of La Trobe’s cultural collections confirmed that “La Trobe University has collections of substantial merit, with holdings worthy of any institution in the country”. All of the collections have historical and community significance, with many of the works having aesthetic and artistic significance.
The University’s fine art collections are primarily made up of Australian art, with some examples of international work acquired over the decades, including by visiting Chinese artists in the 1970s and 1980s.
The University’s collections also include the Stewart E Fraser Poster Collection, which was developed by a distinguished and long-time scholar with family ties to China. Many of the objects held in this collection come from China during the Cultural Revolution. The Geoff Raby Collection of Chinese Art is an important counterpoint to and progression from the Fraser Collection.
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