Working as an accountant in the early ’70s, Tom Lowenstein’s wife turned to him one day and affectionately told him he wasn’t cultural enough. In an effort to change this, they began visiting art galleries on weekends.
Fast-forward 40 years and the Lowensteins have one of the most important collections of Australian modern and contemporary art in the country. And next Tuesday March 7, 250 of those pieces will be auctioned off, with an estimated value of $2 million.
It’s a decision Lowenstein tells Broadsheet he was “in two minds about”, and one that was triggered by an office downsizing and running out of wall space at his eponymous firm Lowensteins Art Management (which looks after the accounts of 3000 artists). This auction will enable Lowenstein to continue to support the next generation of upcoming talent by funding future art scholarships and new acquisitions.
It was “time to clear out the collection for the next lot of emerging artists … It’s time to give the younger artists a chance,” he says.
The paintings, sculpture and works on paper that are up for auction all hold a story for Lowenstein, particularly those he acquired as payment for his accounting services decades ago. Young artists who couldn’t afford to pay cash instead gave over a piece of art.
While it is difficult to part with pieces that are personally meaningful, Lowenstein says “art work is meant to be seen”, and hiding it away in storage was not an option. One such item is a piece by close friend Lin Onus, who died prematurely at 49.
Works by some of Australia’s most prolific and important artists are also going under the hammer, including pieces by Arthur Boyd, Brett Whiteley, John Olsen, Charles Blackman, Ben Quilty and Robert Klippel.
A Blackman nude has been the subject of controversy after Facebook blocked a video ad by Mossgreen – the auction house selling the works – that featured the oil painting.
The artwork, Women Lovers, depicts two naked women resting on a bed, which Facebook deemed inappropriate, telling Mossgreen its video “wasn’t boosted because it violates ad guidelines by advertising adult products or services including toys, videos or sexualising enhancement products.”
Lowenstein finds the censorship laughable: “That painting’s been hanging on the wall above my bed for the last 35 years.”
The Lowenstein Collection of Modern & Contemporary Australian Art is available for viewing in Melbourne from March 3 to 7 at Mossgreen on High Street in Armadale. The auction will take place on Tuesday March 7 at 6pm at Mossgreen.