Significant exhibition of Chinese art

A significant collection of Chinese art donated to La Trobe University by Australian economist, diplomat and Distinguished Alumnus Dr Geoff Raby AO is on display to the public for the first time.

Valued at $3.15 million, the collection is the largest cultural gift the University has ever received, and now forms the exhibition In our time: four decades of art from China and beyond – the Geoff Raby Collection, opening Saturday 20 August at Bendigo Art Gallery.

The Geoff Raby Collection of Chinese Art comprises 174 objects collected over a period of 30 years, including paintings, photography, works on paper, ceramics, sculpture and textiles. It 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 AO said he was delighted that these culturally and artistically important works could now be enjoyed by the community.

“As well as being a major asset of the University’s wider collections, the Geoff Raby Collection is a very significant resource for the University, contributing to our research and teaching, and complementing our strategic focus on Asia and China,” Professor Dewar said.

“We are pleased that, through our longstanding partnership with Bendigo Art Gallery, the single largest cultural gift made to La Trobe University in its history is now on display for all to enjoy.”

Director of the La Trobe Art Institute, Bala Starr, said the collection is highly significant.

“The Geoff Raby Collection reveals stylistic and thematic developments in contemporary art in the context of changing political ideologies, social conditions and cultural activities in China and Australia,” Ms Starr said.

“It has been deeply rewarding to develop this exhibition at a time when understanding and cooperation between Australia and China has never been more urgent.

“Working with our partners at Bendigo Art Gallery, we have been conscious of Bendigo’s own cultural histories and our diverse communities,” Ms Starr said.

“We have presented multiple entry points for viewers, but also recognise the value in experiencing images and ideas that have no direct relationship with our own lived experience.”

Jessica Bridgfoot, Director of Bendigo Art Gallery said these complementary exhibitions reveal the complexity and nuances of Chinese identities.

“Presented side by side with Treasures of Dai Gum San: Chinese artistry from the Golden Dragon Museum, the exhibition demonstrates the fundamental place Chinese cultural tradition and history has for both the community of settlers in the early days of Bendigo and contemporary artists breaking into the international art scene of the early 2000s,” Ms Bridgfoot 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.

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 made the donation under the Cultural Gifts Program, a Federal Government initiative.

In our time: four decades of art from China and beyond – the Geoff Raby Collection will be on display from 20 August ’22 to 19 February ’23 at the Bendigo Art Gallery.

The La Trobe University Cultural Collections

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

A 2017 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 University’s collections 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 La Trobe’s website to find out more about the La Trobe Art Institute.

Media contact: Kate O’Connor – k.o’, 0436 189 629