Art lover comes in from the cold

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The name’s Peterson. Ian Peterson. For many years, Ian Peterson was the toast of the art galleries of Britain, Europe, and the US. The quiet self-effacing businessman got to rub shoulders with the glitterati of the art world in London, Paris, and New York. Galleries queued up to borrow his works.

He built a reputation as someone who knew his art, or, perhaps more accurately, what art he liked, and what he was prepared to pay for it. And the proof that this collection of more than 150 pieces, worth well in excess of $500 million, is highly esteemed in art circles is that galleries of the stature of the Tate Modern in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York continue to want to borrow from it.

Today, Australia knows that Ian Peterson doesn’t exit. Or, at least, Ian Peterson the art collector doesn’t exit. That nom de plume went out the door when Ian sat down with the ‘Australian Financial Review’ about two weeks ago to say the person who owns this magnificent collection that embraces such renown artists as Horace Vernet, Francis Bacon, Luca Giordano, and Gustav Klimt, and, locally, Sidney Nolan and Brett Whiteley, was Lindsey Hogg.

In coming out from behind the paintings, Lindsey solved some riddles that have long plagued the Australian art community. Just who did buy Whiteley’s ‘The Jacaranda Tree (On Sydney Harbour)’ for a then Australian record of $1.98 million? At the time the ‘AFR’ speculated it was Jodee Rich, then the wunderkid building One.Tel, a service provider of GSM mobile and long-distance calls, which went into administration in May 2001). Or maybe a Hong Kong-based designer named Steven Jackson. We now know it was Lindsey, with the painting proudly adorning the foyer of his Melbourne home.

When pieces from his collection were loaned to overseas galleries, they would be signed, “from Melbourne, Australia”. Journalists such as the intrepid saleroom reporter Terry Ingram of the ‘AFR’ would work their contact books to find out who the owner was, but Lindsey’s secret remained secure within his tight circle of family, close friends, and advisors.

Today, in the world of social media, it seems everyone’s linen not only gets hung out, it’s thrust in your face. It’s a world Lindsey has always shunned. Yet for one reason, and one reason alone, he would have continued to shun it, and his secret would have remained intact.

That reason is simply this: he wants to give this priceless art collection to the people of Victoria. No strings attached. It’s his gift to the State where he grew up and in honour of his parents Rose and Maurice, who migrated here from England in the 1930s with 30 shillings between them, to build a business and raise a family.

To ensure such an arrangement is locked in, the collection is to be given to a not-for-profit charity to be managed on behalf of all Victorians in perpetuity, with the collection to be housed in a proposed gallery called ‘Rosemaur’, a $50 million investment in architecture and landscape on an eight-hectare site at Harkaway in the foothills of Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges.

That location is in a green wedge zone and is currently going through an exhaustive planning process to get approval, with the final decision in the hands of the Victorian planning minister, Richard Wynne. And, as would be expected, some local residents have expressed strong disquiet at the proposal, arguing such a project would impinge on the “character” of Harkaway.

They have a point. Such a project will bring some change, and some people don’t like change. Measured against this are the benefits such an art collection and gallery will bring, whether they be cultural, tourism, jobs (the project calls for a restaurant with the proceeds to ensure the gallery is financially self-sufficient), educational, or supporting local artists.

Lindsay Hogg is still the same quiet, self-effacing Melburnian businessman. The decision for this extremely private man to finally go public was an agonising one, but one he was prepared to take so that he could gift the people of Victoria, and Australia, this art collection. Surely, it’s a gift Victoria will be willing to accept.

Kelvin Margin

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