Published in Art Collector | Issue 90, 2019

Inside the immaculate kitchen of a California-style bungalow in Centennial Park, Gene Sherman and I lean over the stove to study a cluster of glistening knives on the wall. Over three hundred of them actually, hand-forged by Filipino artists Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan into the hulky shape of an archangel’s wing. Sherman, who has commissioned works by the art-couple previously, tells me she’s continually intrigued by the Aquilizans’ diverse practice, recalling that she discovered an expanded version of this Left Wing series installed as a suspended kinetic structure at Art Basel HK. “I’m sensitive to originality,” Sherman reveals, “so, when it comes to collecting art, I’m constantly looking for a type of ‘new’ that speaks to me.”  When I jokingly ask if it’s ominous to cook underneath a school of blades, Sherman laughs, “I’m not worried about that, I don’t cook.” 

Not that Sherman has time to cook, it seems. Indefatigable and chameleonic — this artworld doyenne remains one of Australia’s most formidable cultural advocates. Over the past three decades, she’s transformed the way people experience and collect art—through her oscillating role of curator, art advisor, academic, producer and benefactor. Known for boosting the careers of countless artists, she established Sherman Galleries with Curatorial Director William Wright, which ran from 1986-2007, followed by  Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, from 2008-2017. Both enterprises were supported by her husband Brian, a humanitarian and former entrepreneur whose funds management business Equitilink garnered them mammoth wealth. “During those years, I initially searched for artists on the rise,” she states “and we offered them exhibitions, publications and budget support, so they could create breakthrough works.” Although breakthroughs didn’t eventuate for every commissioned artist, “they happened enough to encourage me to continue doing what I did.” Unsurprisingly, Gene and Brian are voracious art collectors. Together, the South African born, Sydney based couple have amassed over 900 artworks from international luminaries, notably William Kentridge, Yayoi Kusama, David Goldblatt, Dinh Q Le, and Lisa Reihana, as well as Australian favourites Brook Andrew, Shaun Gladwell, Janet Laurence, Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Paddy Bedford. 

Across the decades, the Shermans have collected or commissioned work through several commercial galleries, including Yavuz Gallery (Singapore) and 10 Chancery Lane Gallery (Hong Kong). While Sherman points to her father—a collector of art and Persian carpets—for igniting her passion to collect, she also credits the success of Sherman Galleries as a consequence of her ability to anticipate and embrace change, identifying significant artists in the early stages of their development. Eyeballing “tens of thousands of artworks” during her professional, academic and artworld journey has led her to concentrate on artists based in the Asia Pacific, Australia, and the Middle East — regions with mingling languages and cultures that fascinate her. As an avid researcher, she is drawn to the themes of diaspora, uneven power structures and social justice, often explored by artists like Barthélémy Toguo and Mikhael Subotzky. She also speaks French and Afrikaans, and treats multilingualism as a superpower that lets her “see the world through different linguistic, cultural and spiritual prisms.” It’s these diverse viewpoints “that influence how I look at art,” she says with a noticeably South African accent, despite emigrating to Australia with Brian in 1976. 

This is an excerpt. Buy Art Collector Issue 90 to read the full feature.

Image top-bottom: Gene & Brian Sherman in front of ‘Family Tree’ Zhang Huan / Kitchen wall with ‘Left Wing’ Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan / Office wall with ‘The Headless Buddhas of Angkor’ Dinh Q. Le / Gene’s ring display collections featuring assorted ring designers, display designed by Don Cameron / Hallway featuring Do Ho Suh, Shaun Gladwell and Emily Kame Kngwarreye / All photos: Nick de Lorenzo