In Conversation with David Clouston and Michael Schwarz

Michael and David with their dog Marty and Caleb Shea sculpture (behind).

This issue, we chat to Melbourne collectors and philanthropists David Clouston and Michael Schwarz about their experiences in assembling a collection over many years and giving back to the Australian art community.

How did you first become interested in collecting Australian contemporary art?

We have always been interested in art, but really started to collect it when we formed an art collecting group in 2003, the Acacia Collection. With the group, we would visit commercial and public art galleries most weekends, as well as artist studios, interstate and international galleries, curatorial art talks, and art fairs. It was this high level of engagement that led to so many acquisitions. We started off with paintings, but now find ourselves surrounded by ceramics, photographs, and textile works as well.

How do you approach adding a new piece to your collection?

We look at and experience art with both our heads and our hearts. Michael is interested in figuration and what the artist is saying through the work, while David looks at the more abstract features in the work. Most importantly, the work needs to resonate with us – the heart usually wins. However, we don’t always agree on a particular work and then it is up to the supporter to argue the case for acquisition. (David believes there is not enough pink in the world!).

Jenny Watson Bottled Memories (behind) with ceramics by Brendan Huntley (front left) and Jodie Noble The Thinker (front right).

Tell us about the process of curating the pieces in your home, how do you decide where each new piece will go?

Early on, the works were brought home and put up wherever they would fit, including behind and above doors, over cupboards, and sadly, sometimes under the bed, awaiting their moment. These days, with the house completely full, there is very little movement, but we do swap around some works.

Michael, could you tell us about your work with Arts Project Australia (APA) and why the organisation is important to you? 

Having a disabled older brother and working in mental health, I was always keen for the inclusion of ‘voices rarely heard’. I have been affiliated with APA for many years – previously as a board member and now as a volunteer. I love the enthusiasm, creativity and passion of the artists and staff. Whenever I am asked to recommend an art purchase, I always suggest the APA website.

Is there one APA artist that you think every art lover should know about?

The works of the APA artists are extremely diverse and it is impossible to select just one artist. Recently, we seem to have collected many soft sculptural works. I particularly like Mark Smith’s text-based art (some of which are currently in ‘Melbourne Now’ at the NGV), Chris O’Brien’s buildings (his Chrysler Building is extraordinary), and Terry Williams’ ability to create anything as a soft sculpture.

Terry Williams soft sculptures (2 on sofa), Peter Stephenson Piano Grid (behind) and Lena Yarinkura Tree with Bush Mice (left).

Which contemporary artists are you excited about right now?

At the moment, Bronek Kozka! We have just bought a photograph from his “The best years of our lives” series (2009) at a recent Leonard Joel auction. The tension that he has captured in a suburban domestic scene is incredible. Locally, there are so many artists we admire and follow, but we are very pleased that Adam Lee has been included in ‘Melbourne Now’. Sam Martin is another highly talented artist who we feel is under-appreciated.

What are you looking for next to add to your collection? 

Nothing! The collector’s journey is one of accumulation over many years and then facing the hard decisions of what to do with the collection. These days, we are more interested in dispersing the collection, mainly through donations to institutions through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program. We have donated over 70 works so far. We are particularly pleased that the Art Gallery of Ballarat is currently considering a donation of 35 works. We have sold a few works with Leonard Joel recently. Unfortunately, in the same auction, there was a fabulous Lyndell Brown & Charles Green duroclear which we bought, so it sort of defeated the purpose.

Banner Image: Brook Andrew Black and White Special Cut with Benjamin Armstrong Gertrude edition (front) and David Noonan Wayang (bottom left).

May 2023