One of the Howard Arkley paintings in the Michael Buxton Collection (Photo: MBC)
Rich Lister and property tycoon Michael Buxton has made a generous $26 million art donation to the University of Melbourne.
Buxton’s donation comes after gaming tycoon James Packer created a $60 million Sydney Arts Fund as part of a $200 million pledge to charity over the next 10 years in July this year.
On its official website, the Michael Buxton Collection describes itself as focusing on “fewer artists, in depth and across media”, and aims to “reflect the development of artists’ practices, and the scope of current visual arts practice in Australia”.
The Buxton collection covers the period after 1980 and includes artworks in a number of different media forms, including painting, sculpture, photography, drawing and installations.
Curated by Samantha Comte, Luisa Bosci and Mark Feary, the collection will aim to support the work of living artists by buying directly on the primary market.
The collection currently features more than 300 works by prominent Australian artists such as Howard Arkley, Ricky Swallow, Tracey Moffatt, Emily Floyd and Bill Henson.
It will be hosted at a new purpose-built museum, called the Michael Buxton Centre of Contemporary Art (MBCOCA), at the Victorian College of the Arts & Melbourne Conservatorium of Music on Southbank Boulevard.
Aside from the collection itself, Buxton’s donation includes funds for the construction and endowment of the museum and its operation over 20 years.
Buxton, a fifth-generation Melbourne property identity, began his career in management and sales in his family’s business, JR Buxton.
In 1976, Buxton decided to strike out on his own, forming commercial property giant Becton in partnership with fellow property tycoon Max Beck.
At the end of 1994, Buxton sold his interest in Becton and, a year later, joined his brother Andrew Buxton in a new commercial property development venture called MAB, with Beck also eventually leaving Becton. It was in the same year that Buxton began his art collection.
The entrepreneur’s decision to move away from his former venture quickly proved to be fortuitous. In 2012, Becton was placed in limited receivership as the company struggled to survive under the weight of about $250 million in debt.
Meanwhile, by 2010, MAB had secured an estimated $400 million in projects across the residential, commercial and industrial sectors.
MAB’s flagship project was NewQuay precinct at Melbourne’s Docklands, which included the $180 million 400-premises HarbourOne residential tower. The company also won a contract to provide the infrastructure for the 1200 hectare Merrifield housing estate north of Melbourne.
By May of last year, BRW estimates Buxton and his brother had earned a combined fortune of around $355 million, earning them spot 132 on the Rich List.
In a statement, Buxton said he hopes the donation will help educate future generations of artists.
“By donating this magnificent collection to the University of Melbourne we are ensuring its longevity as a dynamic collection which will evolve and grow, educating future generations of students and serving as a resource for all Australians aspiring to understand or collect challenging contemporary art,” Buxton said.
The director of Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne, Kelly Gellatly, told SmartCompany such a large donation to the contemporary arts is fantastic.
“In a university context it’s the largest donation to date through the university’s Believe fundraising campaign,” Gellatly says.
“It’s important to acknowledge that this donation will be vital – it will include the collection, build a venue to house it, and an endowment. It shows his commitment to contemporary best practice.
“The collection, which has been established with curatorial rigour, will enable the establishment of an extraordinary museum. It will showcase exhibitions that embrace experimentation and explore some of the major concerns of the 21st century.”