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David Walsh reveals art for new private Tasmanian gallery

Walsh, described as “every casino owner’s nightmare”, owns around 1,300 antiquities and 300 contemporary works

Paris. David Walsh, a mathematician, gambler, winery owner and collector based in Hobart, Tasmania, whose probability skills have reportedly made him a fortune at the blackjack table, has revealed details of the art he intends to put on public display, free of charge, in his new Tasmanian gallery when it opens in 2009.

Speaking to The Art Newspaper by telephone, Walsh, who rarely talks to the press, said that he plans to display his eclectic collection in the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) he is building near Hobart where he also owns a winery. His aim? “To offer a range of antiquities and contemporary art out of context, to put them together without any chronological system, to find links between cultures that have been isolated from each other,” he says.

A collector for over 20 years, Walsh owns around 1,300 antiquities from ancient Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia. He says that the transition to collecting contemporary art “came naturally” around ten years ago. In both areas, Walsh says his taste is “guided by shape and aesthetics”.

He now owns some 300 contemporary works, estimated at around A$100m ($88m). “He is not fixed on the market or on fashion,” says his adviser Olivier Varenne, who previously worked at Gagosian Gallery in London. “We have even bought a work by Gregory Barsamian, a relatively unknown artist, who doesn’t have gallery representation.”

David Walsh’s contemporary acquisitions include Chris Ofili’s Holy Virgin Mary, 1996 (see p1); an edition of Julius Popp’s curtain of watery text, Bit.fall, that was a highlight of Art Unlimited at Art Basel in 2006; a video by AES+F Group shown at the Russia Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale; a video by Candice Breitz, and works by Juan Davila (born in Chile but now living in Australia), two of which Walsh sent on loan to Documenta this year. He has also purchased Anselm Kiefer’s Sternenfall (Falling Stars), 2007, made for the artist’s Monumenta installation at the Grand Palais in Paris earlier this year. The younger artists Walsh has collected include Nathaniel Rackowe, Conrad Shawcross (Walsh owns his Loop System Quintet, 2005) and Jason Schulman.

Walsh also buys Australian art and owns work by Sidney Nolan and Brett Whiteley. He made headlines in Australia in April this year when he paid a record $3.2m at Sotheby’s for John Brack’s The Bar, 1954, which the National Gallery of Victoria had been hoping to buy.

The idea to open a museum is not entirely new. For nine years, Walsh has already shown part of his collection in the Moorilla Museum of Antiquities on his vineyard estate. Closed for the past year, this building will become the entrance of the 6,000 sq. m, cliff-face MONA which will be mostly underground. It is being designed by the Melbourne firm Fender Katsalidis to a A$50m ($44m) budget. “When you go to the Louvre or the Centre Pompidou, the entrance is what leads you to expect something exciting,” he says.

Who will travel to Tasmania? Walsh expects 250,000 visitors a year—30% international, 30% Australian and 40% local. To attract such numbers, he plans an annual blockbuster exhibition and two smaller shows.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Gambler reveals art for new Tasmanian gallery'