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Artist Jonathan Jones with his work untitled (illuminated tree) 2012, Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of Gene and Brian Sherman 2017, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program © Jonathan Jones

Gallery welcomes Sherman gifts

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is delighted to announce two gifts from Dr Gene Sherman AM and Brian Sherman AM supporting the Gallery’s collection and expansion.

The leading philanthropists have donated a work from their collection by renowned Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones, untitled (illuminated tree) 2012, which is on display in the Gallery for the first time.

Taking the form of an illuminated river red gum, displaced, segmented and splayed on the Gallery floor, the work questions Western visions of the landscape while tracing the memory of the Murray-Darling river system, the main artery of south-east Australia.

The Shermans have also pledged $1.5 million to the capital campaign supporting the construction of the Gallery’s new building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects SANAA. In recognition of their campaign gift, a project gallery in the new building will be named the Sherman Family Gallery.

Art Gallery of NSW director Dr Michael Brand thanked the Shermans for their generosity and deep commitment to the arts.

‘Gene and Brian Sherman have played a central role in the development of the arts in Sydney, and I salute their philanthropic spirit. Gene’s artistic vision and support of so many artists have made a lasting impact. We are grateful to be able to add this powerful work by Jonathan Jones to our collection,’ Dr Brand said.

Long-time supporters of the Gallery, the Shermans have made a number of significant gifts to the collection including Jitish Kallat’s Public notice 2 and Yang Zhichao’s Chinese bible.

‘Gene has also been a real champion of the design of the Gallery’s expansion, the Sydney Modern Project, and I have very much appreciated her enthusiastic support for our architects from SANAA. The Shermans were among our earliest campaign donors, which is a great endorsement of the Gallery’s future vision,’ Dr Brand said.

The Shermans join a generous community of donors supporting the Sydney Modern Project. With pledges of $96 million, the Gallery is close to reaching its capital campaign target of $100 million.

Dr Gene Sherman AM is a leading cultural figure and the founder of the Sherman Galleries (1986-2007) and the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF, 2008-2017), a philanthropic enterprise that commissioned and presented work by internationally renowned visual practitioners from the Asia Pacific, Australia and the Middle East. In 2017, she established the Sherman Centre for Culture and Ideas (SCCI) focusing on fashion and architecture both contemporary and historic.

Dr Sherman said: ‘Brian and I are honoured to be in the fortunate position of being able to offer a significant work by Jonathan Jones to the Art Gallery of New South Wales – a museum and institution which has significantly enriched our lives since our 1976 arrival in Sydney.

‘We selected Jonathan as our second SCAF project grantee with the exhibition untitled (the tyranny of distance). Thirty-seven mostly newly commissioned projects followed over the course of a decade. However, Jonathan’s work at SCAF, his body of work more broadly and the friendship that grew between us have remained close to our heart.

‘The symbolism associated with a grand-scale fallen tree resonates strongly with us personally; we think of nature’s eternal cycle, the destruction of natural resources, lost Indigenous heritage – all sombre subjects illuminated by the potential of hope and renewal,” said Dr Sherman.

Jonathan Jones’ association with the Sherman visual arts program goes back to 2002.

‘The Shermans are one-of-a-kind people. I’ve been so lucky to be a beneficiary of their support over many years and from a very early stage in my career. It has really sculpted my practice and has taken me to where I am today,’ Jones said.

‘Gene has such vast knowledge and experience, while her dedication to education and sharing the importance of contemporary art is enormously inspiring.’

Sydney-based, Jones works across a range of mediums, from printmaking and drawing to sculpture and film. He creates site-specific installations and interventions into space that use light, shadow and the repetition of shape and materiality to explore Aboriginal practices and ideas.

Commissioned for the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia, untitled (illuminated tree) 2012 is made up of pieces of wood representing a fallen tree and is lit with fluorescent tubes. It places the spotlight on issues brought about by the colonisation of the landscape through which the Murray-Darling river system flows.

‘Once a trope of colonial painting, used to frame the Western imagination in this vast landscape, the gum tree has fallen. Caked in white ochre, the tree traces the memory of the river, creating an Aboriginal framework that challenges Western perspectives,’ explained Jones.

Art Gallery of NSW senior curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Cara Pinchbeck said: ‘It is a real coup for the Gallery to acquire Jones’ extraordinary work, untitled (illuminated tree) 2012. Substantial in both scale and concept, this work is a fantastic addition to the collection and we are enormously grateful to Gene and Brian Sherman for their generosity in gifting it to the Gallery.’