When Nebraska-born Kallie Blauhorn moved to Australia in 2005, she began collecting postcards from the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). “I couldn’t afford to buy art when I came here” she tells me via video-phone from Melbourne, “so instead, I bought NGV art postcards and framed them.” Today, Kallie is a member of the NGV Women’s Association, while her husband, Telstra CEO Andy Penn, serves as a Trustee at the same institution. Together, the couple’s personal collection surpasses 350 artworks, with 80% comprising Australian artists. Among them are works by luminary photographers, from the beguiling world of Christian Thompson, Robyn Stacey and Tamara Dean to politically-charged portraits by Hoda Afshar, Warwick Thornton and Michael Cook. “I’ve become mad about photography through my involvement with the Monash Gallery of Art (MGA),” says Kallie, who is the MGA Foundation Chair, “I think our country produces some of the most incredible talent right now.” 

As a “kid growing up in the cornfields,” Kallie wasn’t exposed to art, although she developed a passion “for collecting random items, like buttons or leaves, and presenting them to my family,” she fondly recalls. “I loved the interaction of showing people what I collected and engaging in conversation; this continues today by presenting our art collection to friends.” Hailing from south England, Andy was a “high-school dropout” who forged a successful career in the shipping and insurance sectors; the latter involving a 1992 relocation to Australia. Before joining Telstra in 2012, he was tasked to sell off a former company’s corporate art collection. “This experience taught me to understand the commercial side of art,” Andy reveals, “so I bought my first work by Tim Storrier, and the collection grew from there.” The couple married in 2016, after meeting at Arun Abey’s ‘How Much is Enough?’ book launch, which was hosted by Andy. The pair bonded over their love of art, with Kallie remarking “Andy has a sophisticated knowledge of Australian art, while I enjoy the hunt of collecting—this is where our passions overlap.” 

This combination led the couple to enlist Techn? Architecture + Interior Design in 2017 to convert a former textile factory in Melbourne’s Prahran into a three-storey brutalist blockhouse that solidified their vision: “We wanted a home where art came first, and living second,” Kallie posits. Indeed, their abode emits such commercial-gallery-gravitas — with an entire ground floor and chunks of the upper-level living quarters devoted to showcasing art— that I temporarily forget it’s a private home. “Art is the most prominent part of our interiors,” she declares, “it’s because we placed the artworks within the room, rather than adding them as an afterthought.”

Read the full feature in Art Collector – out in news stands.

Photo: Tom Blachford, courtesy Kallie Blauhorn & Andy Penn.