Joyce Nissan Collection: The Anonymity Hunters - Art Collector

Issue 52, April - June 2010

The anonymous owners of the Joyce Nissan Collection say the grand pseudonym was originally a joke, but one that’s stuck and provided benefits along the way. They talk to Helen McKenzie about their invisible rise through the collecting ranks.

In the space of seven years two Melbourne collectors have developed a love and appreciation for emerging art, learnt an enormous amount, amassed 150 works, become philanthropic and literally created a name for themselves. The Joyce Nissan Collection is the love child of a Melbourne couple – he is in finance, she is an art professional with a teaching background. For the benefit of this story we will call them Mr and Mrs Nissan (not their real names). They are anonymous collectors with a serious eye for art. This eye also has a serious twinkle.

The pair came up with the name, the Joyce Nissan Collection, when one of the works they owned was curated into a show. The gallery asked them how they would like the work labelled and they decided on “from the Joyce Nissan Collection”. This was a play on rather more grand sounding collections at a time when they felt that their collecting was very much in its infancy. The Joyce joke as it was initially has ended up being a useful tool as they have become increasingly philanthropic. They have been able to support both artists and artist-run initiatives without drawing any personal attention. At the same time because the collection has a name, artists are able to say on their CVs that they have work in the Joyce Nissan Collection; now quite a name in the emerging art world.

Mrs Nissan explains: “I come from a formal visual arts background so that allows me to understand what I am looking at in terms of the technical stuff. He is the neophyte. The irony is he has intuitive skills and has proven to be a very good spotter of talent. He is also very spontaneous and will take a chance. This is because we are not collecting for any reason other than we are enthusiastic.”

Starting the collection was not based on an epiphany of any sort. It began with a friend suggesting that they check out a show and it has grown from this first recommendation. Since then they have formed relationships with gallerists, curators and artists and now they find themselves with, as Mrs Nissan says, “a hobby (corny word) that we share and enjoy. It engages and stimulates. For us, our partnership is paramount. So many people would like to do this but they are stymied by the other partner. We like to ferret around. We don’t seek anyone else’s advice, rightly or wrongly, that would be contrary to what we do. We are not trying to create anything curatorially sound or with a view for a long-term investment. We are not trophy hunters.”

The Nissans are appreciative of the role some gallerists have played in getting them started. Mrs Nissan says: “We started collecting through one gallery and established a rapport. We were made to feel comfortable in a non-threatening environment. It wasn’t too arty. We were then given the opportunity to meet artists and our confidence grew. I think some gallerists are gentle with you and more willing to be part of the educative process – not make you feel like an absolute dodo. I think the long-established gallerist can alienate younger collectors because there is the assumption of a lot of knowledge. If you are made to feel confident in your decisions, then you’ll keep making those decisions.”

“Another key factor that influenced our quite specific direction was the gallerists generosity in being able to say to you ‘you should try this other gallery’ or ‘why don’t you go here?’ They may encourage you to look at more difficult works. Gallerist Karen Woodbury said we should go and have a look at Uplands. That was probably the most important contact that we made in terms of the direction we’ve now followed. That took us out of the more mainstream galleries and lead us down a path to the emerging artists and then in to the artist-run initiatives … and then into the philanthropy aspect of direct support of younger artists and Gertrude Street.”

“We range far and wide. The bulk of the work we have is by represented artists from galleries. Some of the galleries may be in their early stages too. Some of the works are by artists who are unrepresented but are coming through the ARIs. They may have a City of Melbourne sponsorship, or a state government or Arts Australia grant. Some of the ARIs are pop-up galleries with a limited life span. At others like Bus, Kings, West Space and Conical you might find more senior artists who come in and curate shows, practising artists who teach at the Victorian College of the Arts and they might curate past students into these shows. You’ve got to have your ear to the ground.”

Have they made mistakes in their collecting? Mrs Nissan says they have “no regrets. In the context of time and place they were all good decisions. We haven’t sold anything and are unlikely to. Sometimes I think we should edit,” she laughs. “The children will. One day they will truck it all off to Joel’s for the weekly auction.”

Joyce Nissan Collection
Artists in the Joyce Nissan Collection include Brad Westmoreland, Chris Bond, David Noonan, David Palliser, Emily Ferretti, Jan Nelson, Jon Campbell, Kate Shaw, Lara Merrett, Michelle Usher, Moya McKenna, Nadine Christensen, Rob McHaffie, Tim McMonagle, Trevelyan Clay, Viv Miller, Richard Lewer, Tony Garifalakis, Noel McKenna, Shaun Gladwell, Nicholas Harding, Sharon Goodwin, Stuart Ringholt, Pat Foster and Jen Berean, McLean Edwards, David Griggs, Simon Terrill, Daniel Noonan, Paul Knight, Blair Trethowan, Fiona McMonagle, Ildiko Kovacs, Kiron Robinson, Adam Pyett, Colin Duncan, Emily Floyd, Greg Wood, Mark Hilton, Brendan Huntley, Julia Gorman, Helen Johnson, Selina Ou, Laith McGregor.



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