While having his portrait shot, Michael Buxton leans nonchalantly beside an epochal trio of busts by Mike Parr. With the reminder of a shutter click, he stands up tall and jokes of already having done his yoga workout for the morning. For a Rich Lister, he’s pretty easy going really.
Perhaps the good vibes are on account of the fact that, after a week away skiing in Aspen, Michael is finally seeing the art he gifted to The University of Melbourne in 2014 hung in its inaugural exhibition. ‘It is magnificent,’ he muses. ‘We’ve seen all the art before, but when you see it here you realise it really is a beautiful collection, there is such a variety.’
The 73-year-old instigated The Michael Buxton Collection back in 1995, and museum-quality was always his disciplined goal. ‘I believe if you are going to do something, you should do it properly,’ explains the mature-aged graduate of Melbourne School of Art. ‘Initially, we were going to build on some land I owned in the Docklands precinct, but when we thought of the future of the collection and the educational offering that a university could provide, the idea to build and house the collection here made sense.’
Buxton Contemporary is embedded within Melbourne Uni’s Victorian College of the Arts – ‘a college that has helped develop many of the leading contemporary artists in this country, and allowed our vision to not only showcase the extraordinary talent our country is producing, but also help others to understand and collect challenging contemporary art,’ praises Michael.
He contrasts that the nearby Australian Centre for Contemporary Art does not have its own collection, and the neighbouring National Gallery of Victoria expands into architecture, design, and fashion. ‘Buxton Contemporary will be the location to see Australian artists in-depth, which provides the ability for all to really understand an artist’s practice.’
We’re talking about 350 works by 59 artists – the likes of Peter Booth, Emily Floyd, Bill Henson, Patricia Piccinini, David Noonan, Peter Tindell – from 1980 onwards, and estimated at a value of $10 million. And that’s not all, Michael committed $8 million to expand upon the museum’s heritage front (with the help of geniuses Fender Katsalidis), as well as donated an additional $4 million and financed a $5-million endowment fund to help cover operational costs in the years ahead.