When art does all the talking

By Rhonda Dredge

Private collectors are shy, hiding behind their artworks, but they do love to make a fuss about the artists in their collection. 

Jan van Schaik has 128 works in his small Bourke St apartment and most are squeezed into the hall.

He can list the names of all of them and is quite particular about giving artists credit.

He has begun a project to connect with other collectors that honours the artists in their hidden collections as well. 

“If you gathered together in your mind all the works in people’s homes they’d be our biggest museum,” he said.

Jan knows how much enjoyment he gets from looking at his works. He is amused by the audacity of Paul Yore, hanging outside the bathroom. He’s drawn to the restraint of Patrick Heron, hanging just inside his front door and he makes parallels between works from different decades.

His first work was donated before his birth – an abstract silkscreen made in 1970 – and he just finished hanging his latest purchases above it, three political figurative paintings.  

“In a way they say the same thing. Patrick Heron is painting his feeling of landscape through his feet in St Ives and Peter Waples-Crowe his feeling of life,” he said. 

In 1970, flat abstraction was still considered radical, while in 2019 being gay and indigenous is a potent mix.

Jan does not consider himself to be a curator. He practices architecture in the CBD and teaches at RMIT. Nor is he an artist. But he does love art projects.

He runs a series of talks by practicing artists called Writing and Concepts at different public spaces and aims to publish pamphlets to give other private collectors the chance for some exposure.

“Buying art is the best way to support artists,” he said. He doesn’t object to the commercial side of the business and frequents CBD galleries Neon Parc, Anna Schwartz, Murray White and Sarah Scout.

Even though some former galleries have moved out to the Collingwood Arts Precinct, he said there were still amazing galleries in the CBD. He is also not opposed to a bit of government support, having been chair of the City of Melbourne’s Creative Spaces.

“There’s a risk if you don’t put something in place to ensure what artists put into an area comes back to artists. In Gertrude St the benefit didn’t bring returns. Artists left because of increasing rents,” he said. 

Jan admits to being a public man. He loves the CBD because he can nip down to his office and to RMIT without travelling. He can shift readily between roles.

For the Collection project he will select a couple of pieces from nine private collections and commission curators to write about them. 

The project does not have funding. Perhaps a collective of collectors could be in the offing, drawing out private fancies connected to art.

In pride of place beside his dining table is a Stuart Maxwell he bought a year ago at Charles Nodrum Gallery. Its large brilliant clear forms in a cut-out shape speak of an era when it was cool just to be seen in front of an abstract work.

It did all the talking for you.

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