Urs Fischer, Al Dente 2016, one of many works by the Swiss artist featured in EuroVisions
Credit: Mats Nordman/© the artist, image courtesy the artist and Gagosian, New York

The day after the US presidential election, Danny Goldberg arrived at a towering Romanesque church in Harlem that was built in 1887 and designed by the architect Henry Franklin Kilbur. Though it had recently been converted into a home studio by the Swiss multimedia artist Ugo Rondinone and his partner, the poet John Giorno, the significance of the location was not lost on Goldberg. The invitation was for lunch amongst what is today a veritable shrine to art both by the artist and his contemporaries, though on arrival Goldberg was told that it came with one small stipulation.

“As I arrived he said ‘Danny, I need to warn you just so you’re not surprised: Madonna is joining us for lunch'”, Goldberg says, reciting the artist’s proviso-on-arrival. “And I said, ‘Really? Ugo, this used to be a church right? Is this the Holy Madonna or the singing Madonna?”

Half an hour after the party were due to sit down, the singing Madonna called to say she was so depressed from the events of the previous night that she had stayed awake until dawn and only just woken up, and as such, would be three hours late. Goldberg didn’t wait, desperate though he was for a selfie with the queen of pop, who apparently shares a love of clowns with Rondinone. Goldberg, however, had far more serious business to attend to: he’s on a mission, self-appointed, to raise the profile of contemporary European art with Australian audiences and institutions alike, and clowning around with the queen of pop would have to wait.

A work by Sarah Lucas, England’s representative at the Venice Biennale two years ago. “It’s called Tit Cat Eames Chair. This, which looks from a distance to be felt, it’s actually concrete,” says Goldberg
Credit: © the artist, image courtesy the artist and Sadie Coles HQ, London/Andrea Rossetti

Goldberg bought his first work of art, a painting by Robert Juniper from the Barry Stern Galleries in Paddington, when he was a teenager in high school using the proceeds from a summer job. Until as recently as five years ago, Goldberg considers his collection to have been, more or less, “normal”. The Juniper ended up being donated, he thinks, to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, along with the rest of his Australian collection such that he estimates he only has five pieces left today. It was around that time that his collection began to exceed the limit of the walls that he had to put it on. That boundary would soon dissolve with the strengthening of his resolution to give his collection a purpose greater than that of his own aesthetic interests. Goldberg says it all began as a “little game.

“I was gonna buy 10 pieces of art by emerging artists, and in 10 years time, depending on what had happened to these artists, I would decide whether I had shit-hot eye, or a very ordinary eye. And about 10 weeks later, when the number was not 10 but 60, I decided ‘Houston, we have a problem.’ I either have to stop, or work out something intelligent to do with the works.”

Eurovisions contains three abstract and one ‘photorealist’ work by Rudolph Stingel, an Italian artist, including Untitled 2012, made from graffitied Celotex cast into electroformed copper, plated nickel and gold
Credit: © the artist, courtesy the artist and Gagosian, New York

Goldberg, a member of the Board of Trustees of MoMA PS1 in New York and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC, is adamant that his desire to amass contemporary works by artists with strong ties to Europe does not stem from an opinion that Australian art is in any way inferior, but instead that it’s “sufficiently different that it’s a pity Australians didn’t have a chance to see more of it.” When it came to look at the numbers, which is what Goldberg does by trade (he runs what he calls “a family office, which is looking after your own investments, primarily real estate”) he found a direct correlation between the number of contemporary exhibitions in Australia and the increasing numbers of people seeking them out.

There is, he considers, to be “an unmet desire by Australians to see contemporary art, and I thought, there are very few things that people in this world can truly make a difference in, if I could make a difference to enable a greater number of people, Australians, to see international contemporary art, I would be thrilled with that achievement.” And so, Goldberg embarked on the mission at hand.

Welcome welcome welcome (biblical leisure) by Helen Marten, recipient of the 2017 Turner Prize and whose work features both in Eurovisions and hangs behind Goldberg’s desk, made from cast inlaid Corian, powder-coated steel plate, rusted steel tube, cast bronze, shoe polish, cloth, acorns, carbon crucible, chip board, cut wax tin, wire, paper and polystyrene
Credit: © the artist, image courtesy the artist and König Galerie, Berlin/Jean Vong

Asked how he considers himself to be faring with that mission and Goldberg, who speaks with careful deliberation, responds with what feels like uncharacteristic hesitation but in reality is perhaps just serious self-scrutiny. “Let’s say, ‘B-C’,” he says, deducting points from his own scorecard on account of frustrations Goldberg harbours regarding the loaning of his works to Australian museums, who are seemingly resistant to the idea of drawing on his archives lest it divert attention away from their own.

His response then has been to stage Eurovisions: Contemporary Art from the Goldberg Collection, a touring exhibition of 68 of his own works by 38 leading contemporary artists from Europe that opened last weekend at the National Art School. Later this year, it will travel to the Heide Museum in Melbourne, after which time it will arrive at Canberra’s Museum and Art Gallery before culminating at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery in 2019. Many of the artists included in the exhibition have not been exhibited in Australia previously; others, including Sarah Lucas, Anish Kapoor, Wolfgang Tillmans and Rudolf Stingel, are arguably among the most important and influential artists of their generation. This year, a further 65 works of Goldberg’s from a collection that now numbers around 600 will also be on loan to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Art Gallery of South Australia, and Monash University Museum of Art. It’s a number that has been increasing each year, but due to what he considers to be a lack of an ongoing commitment and sustainability of that number, he’s hesitant to give himself an ‘A’ on that report card just yet.

At left, zwölfteraugustzweitausendundvierzehn, and right, The Plain (both 2014) by Ugo Rondinone, who requests that his ‘day works’ and ‘night works’ be separated in different rooms when exhibited
Credit: © the artist, image courtesy the artist and Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zürich

Though much of his life is absorbed in the pursuit of his collection, Goldberg likes to maintain “a prima facie view that I don’t want to meet an artist more than once” for fear of colouring his own judgment. There are, naturally, exceptions to that rule – Rondinone being one. He estimates that he has lived with around a third of the works on view; half of them, however, he had never seen prior to their hanging in situ, including one of many works by the Swiss artist Urs Fischer bought recently from a jpeg sent over email from Hong Kong. The art market today demands collectors exercise a keen eye and quick-fire decision making skills if they want to play an active role in acquiring works at a moment’s notice. And while those decisions are not always successful ones, redemption for a collector as prolific and evidently engrossed as Goldberg is never far away. “There are two different buckets,” he says of the thinking behind each successive purchase. “The joyous bucket is buying emerging artists. I love the discovery of a new artist. The other bucket is buying works that will get seen by museums, which by its very nature is not emerging artists. I try to anticipate what would a museum want to show and why.”

From his new audience, the exhibition-going public, Goldberg anticipates there will be an altogether different reaction, be that enjoyment or a close encounter with something challenging. “You can’t expect everyone to love every piece, but if they come, they see and leave with a smile on their face or puzzlement in their mind, that’s all good.”

The National Art School Gallery presents EuroVisions from now until Saturday 5 August. Variations on the selection will be presented in Melbourne, Canberra and Bathurst in regional New South Wales in 2018 and 2019. You can find out more information here.

Tile image: Urs Fischer, Al Dente/Mats Nordman/© the artist, image courtesy the artist and Gagosian, New York
Cover image: Detail from Katharina Grosse, o.T. 2013, acrylic on aluminium, canvas, courtesy the artist and König Galerie, Berlin/Olaf Bergmann