Image: John Kaldor (image courtesy of art[iculate])
John Kaldor [Kaldor Public Art Projects]

John Kaldor, Director Kaldor Public Art Projects
ABC Radio National 18 March 2013

John Kaldor is one of Australia’s most significant collectors, patrons and supporters of contemporary art. He is director of Kaldor Public Art Projects, and the latest of these is 13 Rooms, which opened in Sydney in April.

He spoke with Weekend Arts' Sarah Kanowski.

Sarah Kanowski: So, tell me a little bit about how 13 Rooms came to be a Kaldor Arts Project.

John Kaldor: I’d love to. It’s our most ambitious project since, 44 years ago, Christo and Jeanne-Claude Wrapped Coast. Well, in those days I didn’t know what I was letting myself into; now I do know, 44 years later.

Normally we do a project with one artist or two artists working together. But when I heard about this exhibition, first in Manchester and then my wife Naomi and I went to see its second incarnation in Essen, in Germany, we decided we must bring it to Australia.

To me, what is important about 13 Rooms is that it brings together the visual and the performance, but in a completely new way.

Sarah Kanowski: So the experience is that each room is dedicated to an artist, who sort of takes over that space in whatever way they want.

John Kaldor: Well, that’s correct, but it’s much more than that, because the best way to define it is what one of the curators, Hans Ulrich Obrist, says: it’s like a sculpture exhibition where the sculptures go home at night.

So with the exception of the young Australian addition, Clark Beaumont, all the others are not performed by the artist; they’re performed by interpreters, as we prefer to call it. And they’ll start at 11 o’clock, when it opens, and go on till 7 at night.

Now, performance used to be some performance lasted five minutes or five hours or five days—so it had that very definite span. This is a sculpture exhibition, except instead of marble or bronze or clay, it is a human body that is presenting the sculptor.

Sarah Kanowski: Tell me about some of the other performers, some of the other artists who are behind these contemporary or current-day interpreters. What else is interesting?

John Kaldor: Well, it’s a real roll call of who is who in contemporary art. We have Damien Hirst, John Baldessari, Joan Jonas, Marina Abramović, Santiago Sierra; I mean, it’s really… thanks to these two curators—Obrist and Biesenbach—we really got the best of contemporary artists in the world. And it’s a fantastic opportunity to see these works. Also, what I think is wonderful is while 12 of the 13 artists are international, but all the performers are Australians, young Australian dancers, artists. So they will be able to experience first-hand and learn these international works, which of course will stay with them, will stay in Australia.

Sarah Kanowski: And the curators, Obrist and Biesenbach, that you mentioned, from London’s Serpentine and New York’s MoMA respectively are—they’re the roll call of international curators.

John Kaldor: Absolutely. They’re the rock stars of curating.

Sarah Kanowski: Tell me what you hope audiences will take away from visiting 13 Rooms.

John Kaldor: I would hope that they take away a new way of looking [at] art. Because that’s really been our mission for over 40 years—to bring to Australia ground-breaking art that hasn’t been seen before, to show Australian artists and the Australian public really what is going on.

Sarah Kanowski: John, before I let you go, I wanted to talk to you about the announcement that the Art Gallery of New South Wales made a week or so ago for its new vision of Sydney Modern. And of course the Kaldor family is one of the most significant contemporary art benefactors in Australia. And this new vision from Art Gallery of New South Wales is estimated to have a price tag of something like $400 million.

And the question lots of people came away with after Michael Brand’s announcement was, ‘Where does the money come from for that?’ I mean, what’s your sense about whether this is a kind of project that private donors will respond to?

John Kaldor: I think it has to be a combination of government and private. Look, Sydney is in many ways the gateway to Australia. The art gallery here is half the size of the galleries in Brisbane, Melbourne, Canberra. So Sydney does need to expand.

There’s a beautiful site where it can expand to. I very much hope it’ll happen. And probably it’ll be a combination of private and public donations.

Sarah Kanowski: You’re a representative of those donors who don’t just want to collect art, but want to share it. They seem quite different impulses to me; I mean, art collection is one thing, but the desire to share that collection with a public is a different urge again, is it?

John Kaldor: Well, since I was very young, art has been my passion. And I think just to collect in many ways is a selfish endeavour—you see it, your family, your friends see it, but the public doesn’t.

And when I started in the late sixties, early seventies, Australia was very isolated. And I wanted to share my interest, my passion of art with the Australian public. So that’s what gave really the start of the project.

18 March 2013 at 2.27pm
INTERVIEWER: Sarah Kanowski, Radio National, Weekend Arts