Chinese art donated to La Trobe

A significant collection of Chinese art is being donated to La Trobe University by Australian economist, diplomat and Distinguished Alumnus Dr Geoff Raby AO - the single largest cultural gift made to the University in its history.

Valued at more than $2 million, the Geoff Raby Collection of Chinese Art comprises 174 objects collected over a period of 30 years, including paintings, photography, work on paper, ceramics, sculpture and textiles. The collection predominantly features work created by contemporary Chinese artists since the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976.

La Trobe University Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar thanked Dr Raby for his generous donation and said the culturally and artistically important collection will become a highly valued feature of the wider La Trobe Collections.

“The Geoff Raby Collection of Chinese Art will be a dynamic and engaging addition to La Trobe’s highly regarded collections, recognised for its historical, cultural and community contribution as well as its importance to teaching and research,” Professor Dewar said.

“This art collection will be a significant asset and resource for the University community, complementing our ongoing strategic focus on Asia and China.”

Dr Raby said that he was honoured to be able to donate his collection to La Trobe University.

“La Trobe gave me the knowledge and life-skills to achieve things that were unimaginable to me when I first walked through its doors in March 1973,” Dr Raby said.

“The Collection is a small recognition of all that the Institution and its staff, past and present, have done for so many students from Australia and overseas.”

Director of the La Trobe Art Institute, Sandra Bruce, said contemporary Chinese practice holds a prominent position on the international art stage, and that the collection of artists Dr Raby has brought together is highly significant.

“The Geoff Raby Collection of Chinese Art has importance as both a contemporary fine art collection and a resource for international social commentary and associated research and teaching, including comparative cultural studies, social history, and Asian studies,” Ms Bruce said.

Dr Raby began exploring the art scene and collecting in Beijing when he arrived in 1986 to take up the position of First Secretary, Head of the Economics Division at the Australian Embassy. Art was exhibited in ‘pop ups’ for brief periods of time in hotels in the Haidian district, and soon Dr Raby and other supporters began using their own apartments as exhibition venues.

“We used our apartments to show their work because they couldn’t show anywhere else, as there was no [officially sanctioned] exhibition space,” Dr Raby said.

Dr Raby’s friendship and support of the artists, often early in their careers, is considered a factor in their progression and success.

Dr Raby is making the donation under the Cultural Gifts Program, a Federal Government initiative.

The La Trobe University Cultural Collections

The Geoff Raby Collection of Chinese Art will become the seventh discreet collection held by La Trobe University; joining the existing combined holdings of more than 10,000 objects that encompass fine art, artefact and social history, and which are recognised for their historical, cultural, community, and teaching significance.

A recent Significance Assessment of the cultural collections of La Trobe confirmed that “La Trobe University has collections of substantial merit, with holdings worthy of any institution in the country.” All of the collections are of historic and community significance, with a large proportion of the works being of aesthetic and artistic significance.

The University’s fine art collections are predominantly comprised of Australian art, with some examples of international work acquired over the decades, including from visiting Chinese artists in the 1970s and 1980s.

The cultural collections of the University also include the Stewart E Fraser Poster Collection, which was developed by a distinguished and long-serving academic with familial ties to China. A large number of the objects held in this collection are from China during the Cultural Revolution. The Geoff Raby Collection of Chinese Art is an important counterpoint to, and progression from, the Fraser Collection.

Visit the website to find out more about the La Trobe Art Institute.

PHOTO: Lin Chunyan, various works, Revolution, 1987 pictured. First acquired artist’s work in 1987, continued to collect the artist over subsequent years, including works created in Australia.

Media Contact: Claire Bowers – - 9479 2315 / 0437 279 903