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Spreading Beauty: White Rabbit Gallery

The end of summer inevitably means rainy days ahead, and rainy days often end up becoming expensive days, which usually just end up being sad days. But thanks to the folks behind White Rabbit Gallery, they don’t have to turn out that way. In fact, they can be full of tea and beautiful things. Bliss.

The gallery opened last year by the Neilson family and exhibits their collection of post-2000 Chinese art in a stark white four-storey space in Chippendale. Residing on a tranquil street that contrasts sharply with its bustling neighbours, it’s the perfect location to quietly contemplate art. With free admission and only a fraction of the 450-piece collection on display at any one time, you can find peace, quiet and inspiration time and again without déjà vu setting in. And if that isn’t sufficient motivation to make the gallery a regular habit, then maybe the monthly film club and free events (martial arts lessons, anyone?) will do the trick.

But even taking into account the wonderful tearoom (sadly, not free), there’s no doubt that the Nielson family’s collection is the major drawcard for visitors. The current exhibition, Tao of Now, is altogether quirky, lyrical and unexpected. The variety here is vast; works range from Zhang Chun Hong’s almost photographic nine-metre drawing of her plaited hair to the delicate and precise continuous line drawings by Du Jie. According to Paris Neilson, the gallery’s Collection Manager (and daughter of the collection’s founder), the proficiency and diverse talents of Chinese artists are the result of rigorous technical training in art school, cheap materials and cheap labour. “They can make massive works out of materials like bronze and they can have a work force of like 30 guys helping them cast. They can really do anything they put their minds to.”

In fact, the works are so diverse that the only real unifying link between the artworks (aside from being post-2000 Chinese art) is that they spoke to the collectors in some way. Paris admits it’s still a very personal collection.

“It’s works that we love and that we respond to. We’re not trying to chase after any names and we’re not trying to fill any gaps.”

And with trips to China every two to three months the collection is multiplying faster than, well, rabbits, which makes it all the more surprising to learn that it only began a little over a decade ago. In 1999, Judith Neilson, practising artist and wife of billionaire Kerr Neilson, had been considering returning back to university when she discovered the work of Chinese artist, Wang Zheyuan. After enlisting him as her tutor, he became a close family friend who would regale them all with stories about the art scene in China. A few years later, inspired by her tutor’s stories, Judith surprised her younger daughter, Beau, with a trip to China. She was deeply impressed by what she discovered and came home, unbeknownst to her, with the humble beginnings of one the world’s largest contemporary Chinese art collections. Soon the collection could no longer fit in the house and the idea for White Rabbit Gallery was born.

“We always wanted to share it and not just hoard it away…. there are some great collections that don’t get accessed by the public because people keep them behind closed doors,” says Paris. “But I think our culture would be a lot richer if people did share their collections.”

While some works at the gallery can be considered controversial, don’t expect to see canvases filled with Free Tibet motifs or sculptures burning with political criticism (although one or two are smouldering, a little). Where the previous generation focused more on Chinese and political issues, the new crop of artists are generally more fixated on daily life, the experience and the individual, which is certainly more universal. It’s all a result of the fact that China is witnessing the takeover of capitalism and entrepreneurism, which is feeding the desire for individuality and personal fulfilment alongside brand worship and status anxiety. Despite the ruling party’s name, the new China is no longer about the collective – so neither is its art.

The current exhibition, Tao of Now, runs until July.
The gallery is open 10am to 6pm Thursday to Sunday, with daily guided tours at 11am and 1pm.

words: Susannah Singh


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