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LIVING TREASURE'S LEGACY
Almanac: the Gift of Ann Lewis AO,
until April 18, Museum of Contemporary
Art, Sydney NSW
Ann Lewis' family grew up
surrounded by contemporary
Australian art. eir home was
covered in some of the most
interesting and innovative works being
made in the country at any time over the
past five decades.
It was so commonplace for her children
that it didn't seem out of the ordinary to
have artworks on the ceiling.
Indeed, Ann tells the story of one young
grandson whose primary school teacher
was discussing the work of master water
colourist John Olsen with great enthusiasm.
His young hand went up waving furiously
and the teacher nodded approval to speak.
"My gran has one of his paintings on her
ceiling," he said matter-of-factly. "Don't
be so silly," she responded, and tried to
move the lesson along while he protested
vigorously. But, of course, he was right.
Olsen had indeed been commissioned
to paint a work for the ceiling of the Lewis'
dining room and the flaming orange,
vermillion and yellow licks of paint formed
an energised sunburst above the heads of her
entranced dinner guests.
Like so many artists who showed at
Gallery A in Sydney, the commercial gallery
she ran from 1964 until 1983, or those that
applied for a grant to the Visual Arts Board,
or were purchased by Artbank or, indeed,
were interesting and caught her collector's
eye, Olsen work was bought early in his
career and the bond of support broadened
into friendship between the two.
Unlike many philanthropists and collectors,
her enthusiasms were unconstrained by
medium, gender, race or geography; she
was only interested in excellence, in vitality,
innovation and risk-taking.
So, Ann bought and encouraged artists
early in their careers and maintained a
strong interest as they continued to work,
recommending their works to others.
rough her membership of the
International Councils of the Museum of
Modern Art New York and the Tate Gallery
in London, she created many opportunities
for engagement and exchange that have
provided enormous benefits for individual
artists and for the community at large.
She remains one of the most fervent and
proactive agents of support and promotion
of Australian artists and her generosity and
untiring energy in proselytising within the
wider community on behalf of the visual
arts is celebrated in this exhibition at the
Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.
Over the past few years, she began the
process of making her collection available
to a wider audience through donations to
the Museum of Contemporary Art, to the
Newcastle Region Art Gallery and to the
Moree Plains Gallery in Moree, NSW,
where she was born.
Almanac: the Gift of Ann Lewis AO draws
upon these major gifts and as the media
release explains: "...(it) reflects a collection
with depth and currency, tracing changes in
taste, influence, styles and ideas.
"It begins with abstract painting by
modernist Ralph Balson, and later works
by John Firth-Smith and Richard Dunn,
and continues through to more recent
works by Aboriginal artists from remote
regions. e exhibition also includes a
number of photographic works by artists
such as Rosemary Laing and Anne Zahalka,
which combine wit, scale and observation
alongside compelling portraits and street
studies by photojournalist Jon Lewis."
In 2009, Ann Lewis was awarded the
Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council's
Emeritus Medal for her contribution to the
visual arts in Australia.
is year, the inaugural Dr Ann Lewis
Contemporary Visual Arts International
Address will be held at the Museum of
Contemporary Art in recognition of her
exemplary work in promoting contemporary
Australian art internationally.
Together with the award of an Honorary
Doctorate of Letters from Sydney University
and an Order of Australia, she has been
officially acknowledged for something the
art community has been well aware of for
many decades, that Ann is a living treasure.
Almanac: the Gift of Ann Lewis AO is
presented at the Museum of Contemporary
Art in Sydney before touring throughout
the rest of Australia.
Lulu 1999, oil on plywood, 151.5 x 275cm, by Ildiko Kovacs.
Airpor t # 3, 1997 (printed 2000), t ype C
photograph, 40 x 85cm, Rosemary Laing.
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