Patrick Corrigan AM is one of Australia’s most dedicated supporters of Australian contemporary art and artists. A long-time friend of UQ Art Museum, Patrick has generously provided access to his private collection for Over the fence – an exhibition of contemporary photography by Indigenous artists curated by Gordon Craig. We talked with Patrick about his interest in Indigenous art and collecting, along with his thoughts on arts philanthropy in Australia, and asked him for a few words of wisdom for budding arts professionals.
Q: Over the fence comprises works from your private collection and features many of Australia’s leading Indigenous artists engaged in contemporary photography. What drew you to collect in this area?
A: I have a long-held interest in photography by Australian artists, alongside other areas of contemporary art, and in many ways it was a natural fit. Tracey Moffatt, for example, has been at the forefront of avant-garde photographic practice, and it would be hard to ignore her body of work as a collector. She, Michael Riley and their peers represented a new generation of art makers – urban-based lndigenous artists who found the medium of photography the perfect vehicle for storytelling. l’ve always loved this aspect of lndigenous photography, in particular. The works in Over the fence tell so many important stories about our culture.
Q: Previous exhibitions have focused on the Aboriginal paintings you have collected, including the work of Sally Gabori. Many of the works in Over the fence adopt a political stance, often with an edge of humour. Do you enjoy that element of irreverence?
A: Yes, very much. The art world can be too serious sometimes. I think humour helps people connect with a work’s message. lt also works to disarm the viewer, especially when the image or the work’s message might be confrontational. Humour keeps the viewer engaged, rather than repelling them, and that’s a very important element of any work of art, to keep a connection alive.
Q: Do you look for something in particular about an artwork, something that stirs an emotional reaction when you see it, or is it the artist and their practice that appeals to you first and foremost?
A: l’m a jazz lover and I also love Sinatra: the classic eras and styles broadly speaking. I love music that stirs something within me, that gets my foot tapping away and lifts my heart. It’s the same with art. There has to be a rapport with each work I buy; it must speak to me and mean something to me, but I can’t always define what that is with precision. That said, I have made many friends of artists over the years, and this, too, influences me to a certain degree, because of the emotional connections.
Q: Is there something you’ve learned from a lifetime of collecting across the visual arts that you would share with someone starting out in the collecting game…someone who may be poised to make their first purchase of an artwork?
A: My collecting passion is blood borne. l’ve been a collector since childhood and my interests have been incredibly diverse. All my collections, which I eventually disperse, have been the product of a powerful connection, drive or appeal of some sort. The origins of these collecting interests are varied and always deeply personal, so it is hard to be objective about a first purchase for a would-be collector. I would say buy what you love, or what appeals to you on some personal level first and foremost, whether that be psychological or physiological. That’s not to say that other motivations aren’t valid, but for me, it always makes the experience so much more intimate and rewarding.
Q: Recent changes in government structures and funding arrangements have had a significant impact on many arts organisations and artists. Increasingly it seems that philanthropy will be an essential part of a thriving Australian artistic sector. What’s your sense of how Australian philanthropists value and are supporting artists and the arts?
A: ln Australia we are fortunate to have several very high-profile philanthropists who have given invaluable support to the arts community over the years, as well as a broad range of younger benefactors. The diversity of their collective approaches to philanthropy is healthy and this is critical, especially in light of the funding paradigms you mention.
My engagement reflects a personal sense of intimacy and duty; I see myself as a member of Australia’s art family. For example, during the 1990s I committed to only buying works by living artists and to showcasing their talents through exhibitions and donations to public institutions, as well as sponsoring student scholarships and other, career-development prizes.
I also think it is important for philanthropists to encourage others among colleagues and peers. ln the past, l’ve bought works by artists and sold them to friends for the same price, just to spread the word. I use the same approach in my philanthropic efforts, encouraging other collectors and artists to donate, especially to Bond University and the Gold Coast City Gallery, where I am now Emeritus Chairman.
Q: During your many years working with artists, curators and gallerists and others in the visual arts, you would have engaged with a wide cross-section of talent. What words of advice would you give students – our future gallery and museum professionals – about how to be successful in this sector?
A: Be positive, be motivated, be true to yourself, and be out there. And don’t give up on your dreams. You never know where or when the next opportunity will present itself.
Over the fence: Contemporary Indigenous photography from the Corrigan Collection opens at UQ Art Museum on 6 August and runs until 30 November 2016.