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‘Success is what you leave the world’: Michael Buxton’s $26 million giveaway


‘Success is what you leave the world’: Michael Buxton’s $26 million giveaway

Melbourne’s newest museum is soon to open, thanks to property developer Michael Buxton’s donation of art from his collection. What drove him to give it away?

We enter the home of Melbourne property mogul Michael Buxton via his basement garage. A monolithic steel door swings open sideways, hydraulic hinges purring like the portal of some futuristic vault. The simile is appropriate, really, because once inside the Nonda Katsalidis-designed Wave House, which Buxton had built at the end of this leafy cul-de-sac in the well-heeled suburb of Brighton, we are surrounded by dramatic riches.

Whether it’s the Brett Whiteley in the vestibule (Lavender Bay Evening, 1974) or the Juan Davila in the study (The Studio of the Painter, 2006), the entire space is awash with gorgeous and gaudy splashes and lumps of wealth, rendered in oil and acrylic and thread and fur and bronze and bone. On display I don’t see any of his many Howard Arkleys or Callum Mortons or Bill Hensons – nor his Rosalie Gascoignes or Emily Floyds or Pat Brassingtons – but Buxton has a cache of those as well.

For a short while longer, anyway.

A few years ago, Buxton announced that he was giving his vast and forensically assembled collection of contemporary Australian art to the University of Melbourne. The hoard – which he acquired over more than two decades, comprising in excess of 300 works by more than 50 artists – is valued at somewhere beyond $10 million.

But he didn’t stop there, committing another $16 million towards a building, an endowment fund and operational costs, to see the work housed in a new museum – Buxton Contemporary – wedged in the heart of Melbourne’s arts precinct, between the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA). The new space opens on March 9 – so all these objects of inspiration and meaning and trauma will soon move from his personal pad into the public realm.

Over there in the kitchen nook, for instance, sits a monumental mass of colour. Shout on the Hills of Glory (2008) – a swirling alpine landscape by Stephen Bush – has become part of the furniture. Buxton and his wife, Janet, saw Bush creating the piece at his studio in Ascot Vale, the canvas on the ground while the artist spilled and dragged the vibrant hues together.

“That’s pretty exceptional, seeing an artist do his work like that. But it’ll be gone; it doesn’t worry us,” says the 73-year-old Buxton, almost shrugging, in his living room. “We love it but we’ll replace it with something else. And more people will get to love it, too. That was the whole idea.”

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Words: Konrad Marshall.

Originally published on 2 February 2018