New commissions by nine artists for DiCaprio Foundation sale

Annual charity auction will benefit actor's philanthropic activities combating climate change.

For the past four years, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation auction—organised by the actor and art collector—has played a starring role on the St. Tropez summer calendar. Last year, the event raised some $45m on behalf of the “long-term health and wellbeing of all of Earth’s inhabitants”, per the foundation’s mission.

This year’s gala and live auction, conducted by Simon de Pury, will take place on 26 July—at an undisclosed location, for security reasons—following an online preview and absentee bidding period on 40 works of art, beginning 20 July. One hundred additional online-only lots will launch on 27 July, with bidding open from 10-23 August.

To date, the actor's foundation has awarded $80m in grants to 125 organisations working to conserve land and marine life, protect indigenous rights, and address climate change. Art has been key to DiCaprio’s fundraising strategy; in 2013, the foundation’s Eleventh Hour sale at Christie’s set 13 records. This year participating artists include Darren Bader, Lynda Benglis, Cecily Brown, Sam Durant, Tracey Emin, Urs Fischer, Donna Huanca, Pope.L, Oscar Tuazon, and Wang Guangle, among others.

Nine artists—Andrea Bowers, Adrian Ghenie, Max Hooper Schneider, Rashid Johnson, Sanya Kantarovsky, Ben Quilty, Julian Schnabel, Yukimasa Ida and Camilo Restrepo—have created new commissions specifically for the sale. (No prices are listed on the site for the live auction lots; however online lots will carry starting bids and estimates are available upon request.)

Some commissions, like Schneider's, took the foundation's mission as direct inspiration; his Reef Semiosis III (2016) is a vitrine featuring a fiberglass coral reef that has been overtaken by neon signs—or is regenerating around them. Johnson's Untitled (Mask Collage) (2017) is more allusive, with references to primitivism and pre-colonial habitats done in loaded materials like oil stick and black soap.

“[For the online sale] we wanted things that were $500 to $100,000”, DiCaprio’s art adviser, Lisa Schiff, who coordinated the donations and curated the sale, tells The Art Newspaper. “It’s not just about St. Tropez. We wanted people who can’t afford to come to St. Tropez to still engage.” She feels the US’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accords has created a new urgency. “We are way too close to the tipping point, so we need to go big this year….if we can’t capitalise on the attention now, I don’t know when we can.”

Artists can be apprehensive about donating work to a charity auction, where their dealer can’t play gatekeeper and a runaway price might throw their market out of whack. “We can’t control the end buyer”, Schiff notes, so it was imperative that “the artists feel good about being included”. She solicited the artists’ recommendations for their peers, and the foundation is presenting the 150 lots as a virtual exhibition that will remain online after the auction itself has passed.

And while paintings by Damien Hirst and Adrien Brody have proven a solid draw in the past, 2017 is likely to be the last year the auction will focus on works of art. “This isn’t about Leo the art collector; this is about Leo the UN ambassador,” says Schiff. Still, she says, art is uniquely positioned to open the dialogue around climate change: “It’s boring, it’s terrifying, and it’s so much easier just to pretend it isn’t real. How do we face it? Artists are the ones who allow a place to enter that’s accessible.”

Originally published in The Art Newspaper, July 19, 2017.

Anzac exhibition Sappers and Shrapnel to celebrate trench art of war at Art Gallery of SA

SOME of Australia’s leading contemporary artists will create new works inspired by the trench art of World War One soldiers for a new exhibition to open at the Art Gallery of SA on Remembrance Day.

SOME of Australia’s leading contemporary artists will create new works inspired by the “trench art’’ of World War One soldiers for a new exhibition to open at the Art Gallery of SA on Remembrance Day.

Sappers and Shrapnel will feature pieces by artists including Adelaide’s Fiona Hall, Archibald Prize winner Ben Quilty and the Tjanpi Desert Weavers alongside objects crafted by soldiers, civilians and prisoner from the waste materials of warfare.

Quilty, Hall and two women from the Central Desert weavers group, Mary Pan and Rene Kulitja, visited the Australian War Memorial in Canberra on Friday as part of their research for the project.

“Rather than just doing an exhibition of historic trench art, we’re putting those in conversation with artists who are responding to the contemporary trenches,’’ said exhibition curator Lisa Slade.

Hall, who also uses found materials and represented Australia at last year’s Venice Biennale, will show her work All The King’s Men as well as create new pieces with the Tjanpi Desert Weavers.

“I thought that they would have a very interesting view of what trench art could mean for them; trench warfare and conflict,’’ she said.

Quilty, who previously worked as an official war artist in Afghanistan, will create his installation with a Syrian refugee woman who is making traditional wedding dresses that she hopes her baby daughter will one day get to wear in her homeland.

“It’s probably the first time that I’ve really involved a feminine side to my work,’’ Quilty said.

“I want her dresses to be floating in the space … so that it’s almost a defiant act against ISIS (Islamic State) for her.’’

Sappers and Shrapnel was funded through the Anzac of Centenary Foundation and will run at the Art Gallery of SA from November 11 to January 29.

Originally published in The Advertiser, April 26, 2016.

Artist Ben Quilty faces his reflection for Self Portrait on Paper exhibition

ARCHIBALD Prize-winning artist Ben Quilty has created a piece for the Bouddi Foundation’s Self Portrait on Paper exhibition. He describes the process as ‘a powerful way of looking at the world’.

ARCHIBALD Prize-winning artist Ben Quilty has created a piece for the Bouddi Foundation’s Self Portrait on Paper exhibition, which asked 24 of Australia’s most highly regarded artists to distil themselves on to a single sheet of white paper.

What he discovered? If you truly turn the mirror on yourself, then you are forced to face the reflection.

Quilty’s piece, titled simply Self Portrait 2016, shows the “madness, reflects a sort of intensity” spilling over from the hectic start to his year — travelling to refugee camps with World Vision, an experience he said was incredibly moving.

Though, he said, “last year was worse”.

Quilty’s friendship and mentor relationship with Bali Nine member Myuran Sukumaran lasted for three years until the convicted drug smuggler was executed in April last year.

Over those years, Quilty saw Sukumaran confront his own self-portraits and harness the power of looking inward.

“Young people, and Myuran in the most extreme sense, have a very meaningful experience of the world right in front of them,” he said.

“He had a bigger life experience than anyone I ever met.

“I quite often find people are afraid to look, but the most interesting things happen at home, the things that make what it is to be a human in 2016 as opposed to any other time in history.”

So for Quilty, his entry for Self-Portraits on Paper was a reflection of this grand tradition, one full of “meditation on the self as a human being, what it means for broader society, what is humanness and compassion and empathy”.

“It allows a close observation, of the way you treat your neighbour based on the way you treat yourself. It’s a very powerful way of looking at the world,” he said.

Quilty is no stranger to some of the horrors that neighbours inflict on neighbours — in his role as a war artist for the Australian Defence Force, his involvement with World Vision and in his own artistic focus on the unacknowledged crimes against Aboriginal communities.

“I’m drawn to stories that aren’t being told, and quite often if they’re not being told then there’s some sort of injustice as to why,” he said.

“I was very drawn to the young men and women I met in Afghanistan, who were really involved in something so much bigger than anything I’d ever imagined. The brutality of war really struck home.”

And so, despite living an admittedly “adventurous life all the time”, his self-portrait wasn’t “down to one thing, but looking in the mirror”.

“I wanted my portrait to be strong, because at the heart of it the Bouddi Foundation is trying to empower,” he said.

“It’s as much a reflection of the ideas behind (the foundation) as it was a reflection of the beginning of this year and last year.”

Bouddi Foundation’s Self Portraits on Paper will launch at the Yellow House, Potts Point, on Friday, with an auction on Thursday, March 17

Originally published in The Daily Telegraph, March 11, 2016

Artist and human rights campaigner Ben Quilty one of four New South Wales Australian of the Year finalists

The four New South Wales finalists for Australian of the Year have been announced.

Social change innovator Elizabeth Broderick, humanitarian Patricia Garcia, heart surgeon Ian Nicholson, and artist and human rights campaigner Ben Quilty have been honoured with nominations.

"I'm not quite sure what to say about it all; I feel slightly awkward about it," Quilty told Robbie Buck on 702 ABC Sydney.

"My mum was a lifeline councillor for 13 years, and my brother worked in a soup kitchen for three years.

"I've known a lot of people like my mother and my brother who have inspired me to help pull the compassion out of society."

The artist had a busy year presenting his first exhibition in Sydney in six years.

"That was exciting; it is my hometown and I feel a lot of support from old friends and family who come along," Quilty said of the exhibition.

Quilty also spent much time championing the plight of the two Australians — Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan — who were convicted in Indonesia of drug trafficking and executed in April 2015.

"It was in the wake of the executions of Myuran and Andrew and people had expectations it [the exhibition] would be more graphic exhibition than it was," he said.

"Big things like that [the executions] take many years to weave their way into my practice.

"There were a few paintings Myuran actually asked me to make, and I did, but they are far too offensive to be out in the general public."

Quilty, who taught Sukumaran to paint while the prisoner was on death row, would like to release the graphic paintings one day.

"Maybe after I am dead, one day they will [come out in the public domain]," he said.

Meet the nominees: Elizabeth Broderick - social change innovator

As sex discrimination commissioner from 2007 to 2015, Ms Broderick was single-minded in her determination to break down the structural and social barriers preventing women from reaching their potential.

A key advocate for Australia's national paid parental leave scheme, Ms Broderick fought for changes to the ASX corporate governance principles to increase the number of women at decision-making level.

She developed the Male Champions of Change strategy, enlisting a 'who's who' of powerful businessmen to tackle sex discrimination in the workplace and her review into the treatment of women in the Australian Defence Force led to large-scale cultural change.

Patricia Garcia - humanitarian

For the past decade, Patricia Garcia has lived and worked in war zones from Afghanistan to Sudan, Bosnia and Burma.

Ms Garcia has managed humanitarian relief and recovery programs in some of the world's longest-running conflicts.

Witnessing firsthand the violence and brutal exploitation of women and girls in armed conflicts, Ms Garcia has broken their silence so that these women's voices can be heard.

Ms Garcia has supported refugees making a new start in Australia and has designed the human rights course for the Masters of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney.

Dr Ian Nicholson - heart surgeon

One of Australia's leading cardiothoracic surgeons, Dr Ian Nicholson is a regular volunteer with Open Heart International since his first trip to Fiji in 1994.

Dr Nicholson has travelled throughout the Pacific and Africa to give people in developing countries the lifesaving surgery they deserve, yet cannot afford.

Dr Nicholson has mentored medical teams in developing countries for two decades, passing on his skills and knowledge to help them gain self-sufficiency.

Donating countless hours and immeasurable expertise, Dr Nicholson gives many people, both young and old, a second chance at life.

Ben Quilty - artist

As the official war artist in Afghanistan, Quilty recorded and interpreted the experiences of Australian servicemen and women, revealing the internal struggles and bravery discovered in conflict.

His paintings now hang in the Australian War Memorial, and Quilty won the Archibald Prize for his portrait of the artist Margaret Olley in the year before her death.

Quilty led a campaign which called for Sukumaran and Chan to be spared the death penalty, and mentored Sukumaran for four years, helping him transmute some of the trauma of his death sentence into art.

A mentor to many more young artists, Quilty is also a filmmaker, a reconciliation supporter and a champion of young men and boys determined to find a different voice for masculinity in Australia.

Originally published in ABC News, October 26, 2015

Artist Ben Quilty awarded honorary doctorate

Australian artist Ben Quilty has been awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Western Sydney in recognition of his distinguished contribution to the arts.

The 2011 Archibald Prize winner was handed the doctorate by Chancellor Peter Shergold during a ceremony at the university's Parramatta campus this morning.

Professor Shergold said Quilty was contributing to the arts in a profound way, but it was also important to recognise his other achievements.

He described Quilty as a "person of compassion, and sensitivity, and forgiveness".

Quilty has been a vocal advocate for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the two convicted Australian drug smugglers on death row in Indonesia.

He used his acceptance speech to raise the issue again.

"Given a slightly different set of circumstances, I can assure you he [Sukumaran] would be amongst you lot," he said, pointing to the graduates in the audience.

"He did finish his associate degree at the end of last year through Curtin University in Perth, but he does deserve to finish his full degree.

"I hope that one day, when he's back in Australia, he'll finish it."

Quilty also reflected on his own studies, telling the ceremony he learnt more than just visual art.

"Through education, I always see... how important that instructed study of compassion is, that moving forward we can forgive and build the social fibre that it takes to build a country that I can personally be proud of," he said.

Quilty graduated from the university in 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts specialising in visual communication and design.

In 2011 he was appointed an official war artist, spending three weeks with the Australian Defence Force in Afghanistan.

He is now serving on the Board of Trustees at the Art Gallery of NSW.

Originally published in ABC News, April 15, 2015

Interview with the Artist