A chat with alumnus and art collector Dennis Scholl – FIU News

Alumnus Dennis Scholl—the president and CEO of Oolite Arts, a 35-year-old organization dedicated to supporting visual arts in Miami —is a filmmaker and major collector of contemporary art. His willingness to experiment and encourage artists and curators to push boundaries is well known in the art world. 

Over the last 20 years, Scholl has created a series of initiatives dedicated to building the contemporary art collections of museums; served on the boards and executive committees of various museums and art organizations; and received numerous awards and accolades for his work.

Lesser-known fact: he and his wife Debra have one of the largest private collections of Aboriginal Australian art in the country and have decided to share that passion with as many people as possible.

“The Inside World,” a show made up of Aboriginal Australian memorial poles, is completing a six museum tour and the couple recently donated 200 works from this collection in a joint gift to The Met, the Nevada Museum of Art and the Frost Art Museum FIU.

We recently chatted with the FIU alumnus about the exhibition, which is currently on view (virtually) at the Frost Art Museum FIU.

Q. Tell me about The Inside World and how it came together?

A. People ask me all the time: ‘what’s a memorial pole?’ The show is a contemporary art exhibition that takes a time-honored tradition in the Aboriginal Australian community of preparing a vessel for people after they pass and decorating it with clan designs and symbols that are important to the community. A couple of years after that person is buried, they dig up the bones; they take the hollow painted log; they drop the bones inside of the pole; and then they are deemed buried, in their tradition.

That isn’t done anymore. We went to a place called Arnhem Land and asked artists if they would make us memorial poles. Some of the communities were making the poles for artistic expression and others had stopped, and we had managed to get the communities and the art world excited about it again. Most of the memorial poles were commissioned from artists in various communities in Arnhem Land.

Q. I understand that you and your wife are collectors of the largest private collection of Aboriginal Australian art in the U.S. Why is this collection important to you?

A. We have been collecting art together for 43 years. We view our collecting as a series of ongoing projects. When we started, we started collecting prints because frankly, it’s all we could afford and then subsequently we built a photo based collection, and every decade we tend to change…about 13 years ago, we got a little disinterested in the contemporary art world…but I can’t not collect. I went to Australia because I make wine there, and a friend suggested that I go see Aboriginal and Australian contemporary art…I didn’t think it was for me but I went to an art gallery of New South Whales, and it was an epiphany. I was blown away and couldn’t’ believe it.

It was an opportunity that I saw to bring a lot of light to some of the world’s greatest art that has not received much attention previously.

Q. At the end of this show the memorial poles will be dispersed to The Met, The Nevada Museum of Art and the Frost Art Museum FIU. How did you choose these three institutions as the recipients of the poles?

A. We chose each of these museums to share in this gift for very specific reasons. The Met because it’s an important center of this kind of work in the world; the Nevada Museum of Art made a huge commitment to the project and are logistically running it; and we wanted to have the work in Miami because that’s where we live and the obvious place to have it was a teaching museum. FIU is my alma mater, and we thought the Frost would be a great place for it so that students could interact with the collection.

Q. Why is this an important exhibition for South Florida?

A. I think that everywhere we have sent the work, the community response has been the most rewarding. To   bring them together in a critical mass and then to find a permanent home for the work means that the Frost now has one of the best collections of Aboriginal Australian art in the country. FIU President Mark Rosenberg always points to excellence, and we think that by putting this gift together, and putting it in the museum, it’s really compelling.

Q. What advice would you give to a new collector?

A. People say to me all the time: ‘I want to begin collecting art, but I don’t have the resources.’ I don’t agree with that. You can start with any amount of money. One way to start, is by looking around your community and start collecting art at various entry points…there are a lot of entry points for collecting. Now you have the added benefit of being in Miami –there are 22 art fares [in] a week—a cornucopia of opportunity. The Untitled Art Fair (12th and Ocean on Miami Beach) and NADA are great places for young collectors.

‘Just nuts’: Historian decries archives merger proposal – Sydney Morning Herald

But amalgamation has been opposed by archivists, historians and former administrators worried it will herald budget cuts and hinder the capacity of the individual entities to marshal arguments in favour of heritage protection.

Former City of Sydney historian Shirley Fitzgerald said in a submission: “There should be some serious policy words to describe this suggestion but I’m afraid the words that keep coming to mind are words like misjudged, indefensible, bizarre and just nuts.”

The merger drive comes as the government is pushing ahead to create two other super-agencies, one to run entertainment and sporting venues and the other replacing three independent parkland trusts.

The State Archives is the nation’s oldest archive collection, dating from 1787.

Sydney Living Museums maintains 12 locations, including the Museum of Sydney, Hyde Park Barracks, Elizabeth Farm, The Mint and Rouse Hill Estate.

Adam Lindsay was appointed in 2019 as executive director to manage both bodies to open up new and significant stories of the history of NSW.

Mr Lindsay told the inquiry closer cooperation had resulted in the design of new displays for Vaucluse House and Elizabeth Farm.

Chair of the Sydney Living Museums, Naseema Sparks, told the inquiry it was a natural fit: “Where SLM owns physical spaces and locations, SARA has the records and archives to bring them to life. Where SARA has a depth of historic material, SLM has the capability to co-curate and display them.”

Former Greater Sydney chief commissioner Lucy Turnbull supported the creation of a single custodian to build the history of NSW as a “brave proposal”.

Together, the potential for storytelling, display and programming was infinite, she said. A new institution could help with collection management and conservation and reviving the historic Macquarie Street precinct.

While Dr Fitzgerald said the idea of partnering private and public cultural institutions to tell the state’s foundation stories was sound, the idea of merging the two organisations was nonsensical.

Records held were primarily paper-based and not adequate for use in museum displays or curated exhibitions, while the portfolio of historic houses was skewed to Sydney and did not showcase all the stories of NSW or its industrial and technological history.

The greatest blow to public access to state archival material came in 2012 when the State Archives and Records closed its office in The Rocks as a cost-saving measure, Dr Fitzgerald said.

Relocated to Kingswood, in western Sydney, it had been a “sad, underfunded, lost entity”.

Historic museum: Hyde Park Barracks.Credit:Robert Pearce

Professor Stephen Garton, the University of Sydney’s senior deputy vice-chancellor, said the merger would not assist research-intensive institutions such as his own or meet the community’s information needs.


It would dilute the state archives’ independence, diminish its standing within government and hinder transparency and public trust.

In no other state had a similar amalgamation been contemplated, according to the Federation of Australian Historical Societies, “presumably because it is such an uneasy and even illogical fit”.

Were it to go ahead, however, the federation said any financial gains should be reinvested back into operations, staff, training and new premises.

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The winner of the prestigious John Leslie Art Prize is announced – Gippsland Times

Winner of the 2020 John Leslie Art Prize, Sarah Tomasettis Kailash from the Air (2019, oil and incision on fresco plaster, 220 by 130cm). Image courtesy of the artist and Australian Galleries, Melbourne and Sydney, and Beaver Galleries, Canberra.

MELBOURNE-based artist Sarah Tomasetti has been announced as the winner of the 2020 John Leslie Art Prize at Gippsland Art Gallery, Sale.

The announcement was made by Wellington Shire mayor Alan Hall in the gallery’s first virtual opening posted online on Friday.

Tomasetti’s enigmatic painting Kailash from the Air depicts the sacred Tibetan mountain Kailash from a high perspective, painted using the Renaissance method of oil and incision on fresco plaster.

The work explores the artist’s concern for the Earth’s changing natural environment.

“The Tibetan plateau is melting, in some places up to 10 times faster than the poles,” she said.

“All the river systems of south Asia originate here, pouring over the edge of the roof of the world and sustaining one third of the world’s population.

“And so research into the climate dynamics of region increasingly aligns with the centuries-old belief amongst Buddhists and Hindus that Mt Kailash is the navel of the world and the source of all life.

“Mt Kailash has never been climbed, but from a drone or a plane we can see this sacred peak from above, and so this work hovers at the dawn of the Anthropocene, an age in which a human gaze can penetrate all corners of the globe, a colonising force without compare.”

A large painting at 240 by 150 centimetres, the work is meticulously executed and atmospheric, and uses a limited colour palette.

Tomasetti’s winning painting was selected by two judges, gallery director Simon Gregg and gallery curator Erin Mathews, from a field of 50 finalists.

These finalists were chosen by a guest judge, The Age art critic Robert Nelson, as well as senior gallery staff.

In all, 409 entries were submitted for the 2020 John Leslie Art Prize, from 334 artists.

Mr Gregg described Tomasetti’s winning work as “magical”.

“The painting is a dazzling tour-deforce that draws you in,” he said.

“The handling and application of the oil paint into wet fresco is exemplary, and the subject is a timely one with the changing climate and the need for increasing respect of our planet’s finite resources.

“The more one looks at the painting the more we find within it, and it continues to unfold before our eyes.”

Tomasetti has held countless solo and group exhibitions since her first exhibition in 1988.

Winner of the Best Gippsland Work category, Linda Gibbs, untitled (2019, oil on linen, 112 by 168cm). Image courtesy of the artist.

In 1999, Tomasetti completed a Master of Arts in Fine Art at RMIT University, and is currently a PhD researcher and fine art lecturer there.

She has been a finalist in 14 prizes (including the John Leslie Art Prize on two separate occasions), but this is her first win.

Tomasetti takes home the $20,000 first prize, and her painting will be automatically acquired for the gallery’s permanent collection.

Fish Creek-based artist Linda Gibbs was awarded Best Gippsland Work, for her untitled painting.

The large oil on linen work impressed the judges, who praised it for its gentle luminosity, sparse but expert handling of paint, and the strangely inviting subject.

Gibbs was awarded $1000 in her category.

Both winning artists said they were thrilled to be selected from the strong field of finalists.

The John Leslie Art Prize is one of Australia’s most prestigious prizes for landscape painting.

The prize is named after the late John Leslie OBE (1919-2016), a former patron of the Gippsland Art Gallery and a well known local philanthropist.

The continuation of the prize is a result of the generosity of the John Leslie Foundation.

The prize is offered biennially, and previous winners include David Keeling (2000), Vera Mller (2002), Mark McCarthy (2004), Brigid Cole-Adams (2006), Andrew Mezei (2008), Jason Cordero (2010), Tony Lloyd (2012), Shannon Smiley (2014), Amelda Read-Forsythe (2016), and Vanessa Kelly (2018).

The exhibition of the work of the 50 finalists is currently on display at the Gippsland Art Gallery, and will continue until October 25.

Visitors are invited to submit their favourite to the People’s Choice Award online on the gallery’s website.