Gene & Brian Sherman: 1st Capsule Collection

‘Artists are our treasures. Their work nourishes our society in multiple ways’
— Dr Gene Sherman AM.

For art-lovers and philanthropists, Gene and Brian Sherman, the decision to part with important and much-loved artworks is eased thanks to their two accompanying goals: the desire to continue their long-standing support of emerging Australian and Asian artists and the intention of continuing to support education in the arts and the humanities.

Envisaged as the first in a series, proceeds from the ‘Gene & Brian Sherman Capsule Collection Sale’ will, in part, be redirected toward the ongoing support of early career artists through renewed collecting activity. A portion of sales from this first Sherman ‘Capsule’ will be donated directly to the National Art School. How fitting it is that the National Art School is the venue for this auction.

The collection was born in the early years of the Shermans’ marriage. Currently close to 900 pieces and amassed over almost 50 years, the artworks in the Gene & Brian Sherman Collection largely focus on Australia, the Asia-Pacific region, and the Middle East.

Following Australia’s educational reorientation towards Asia in the late seventies, Gene Sherman, obliged to forgo her French literature teaching career as a result of diminishing student numbers in tertiary European departments, established Sherman Galleries, with Brian’s moral, practical and financial support. Over a 21 year period (1986–2007) the Gallery, under Gene’s direction, became one of Australia’s most influential spaces for contemporary art from Australia and Asia-Pacific

During that time, the Shermans’ collecting activities focused to a large extent on Australia. Major works by John Olsen, Michael Johnson and Tim Storrier, each one of whom was represented by Sherman Galleries, entered the collection. In addition the Gallery worked with a select group of then mid-generation artists including Janet Laurence, Hilarie Mais, Marion Borgelt, Mike Parr, John Young, Hossein Valamanesh, Shane Cotton, Guan Wei and Imants Tillers.

The younger generation and emerging artists were well represented by Shaun Gladwell, Daniel Crooks and Philip Wolfhagen, whilst Gordon Bennett joined the 27 strong represented group as an important Australian urban indigenous artist.

Gene and her team of thirteen highly professional staff worked tirelessly across two spaces, Goodhope Street and Hargrave Street, producing important publications and exhibition catalogues, working closely with public gallery curators and presenting their artists in exhibitions to a national and international audience. The Sherman Galleries represented a rich local culture: Australian artists all with national backgrounds as diverse as Iran, China, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Latvia and Aboriginal Australia.

Their personal collection grew apace comprising major works from the Sherman Gallery artists’ exhibitions and studios.

The couple looked further afield as well, acquiring substantial works from other Australian contemporary art galleries, including Bill Henson and Tracy Moffat to name but two.

What of Asia and the region that Gene explored and researched voraciously?

Two or three times each year invited artists from Asia or the Middle East were included in the exhibiting program. Many now famous Asian artists had early shows at Sherman Galleries. Zhang Huan, Wenda Gu, Cai Guo-Qiang, Xu Bing, Kutlu Ataman, Sigalit Landau and others were promoted over the years and so the collection continued to grow.

Meanwhile Brian’s fund management business, founded with Gene’s cousin Laurence Freedman, became highly successful. In 2008 the Shermans decided to transition the commercial gallery into the Sherman Contemporary Art Fund, SCAF, a family funded not-for-profit visual practice foundation.

They continued to champion artists from the Asia-Pacific region with greater, but not exclusive, emphasis in this new phase on mid-generation Asian artists. Ai Weiwei (China), Jitish Kallat (India), Do Ho Suh (Korea), Dinh Q. Lê (Vietnam), Sopheap Pich (Cambodia), Pinaree Sanpitak (Thailand), Chiharu Shiota and Daido Moriyama (Japan) soon entered the collection. SCAF’s newly commissioned projects have nationally and internationally championed these artists’ works.

Gene’s research and Asia wide travels, together with the exceptional Asia-Pacific exhibitions mounted in Brisbane at QAGOMA since 1993, brought many of these artists initially into focus. They have increasingly become stars and their works are exhibited in major institutions world wide, increasing exponentially in value whilst enhancing understanding between the cultures.

Highlights from the Asian collection have recently been showcased in the exhibition Go East: The Gene & Brian Sherman Contemporary Asian Art Collection, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales to enthusiastic audiences and critical acclaim.

The Sherman’s long history of exhibiting and showcasing work has imbued the collection with special lasting memories. Parting with selected works is, in Gene’s words, ‘a wrench’. However the future beckons and the journey continues.