Judith Neilson: White Rabbit a treasure trove of modern Chinese art

On 16/08/2013 by Site Default

Judith Neilson says she is “too old” to learn Mandarin. It’s a surprising admission from one of the world’s leading collectors of contemporary Chinese art. At 67, the founder and director of Sydney’s White Rabbit Gallery spends more than 40 days a year in China, scouring the backstreet studios for art that is “now, now, now”.

She has hand-picked every piece of art in her public collection of more than 900 items, housed in a former Rolls-Royce showroom in the inner Sydney suburb of Chippendale – knowing “immediately” if an artwork is worth buying. She refuses to buy from auctions, or become involved with the stories or emotions behind a piece. “It just has to connect with me,” she says.

Neilson’s latest purchase is a Gothic cathedral made of black leather fetish wear, suspended a metre above the ground by white rope. It’s hard to believe the person who purchased this shrine of S&M gear also picked out the handcrafted porcelain sunflowers within the collection.

“If I croak, the collection stops,” Neilson says. “It is my collection. I can’t get my daughter or husband or anyone else to continue it, otherwise it doesn’t have integrity. They’d look at it completely differently.”

Seated in the small library on the top floor of the gallery, opened to the public in 2009, she is dressed casually in black trousers and a white pinstripe shirt. In China she’s known as the lady with white hair. Her voice is soft and her responses stilted – Neilson seldom grants media interviews. She gives two- or three-word answers, followed by long pauses. When asked about her artistic taste, she replies with a beguiling grin: “My own”. Every so often she gives in and elaborates. “I don’t know what I go for. I buy what I like and that’s it”…


Judith Neilson

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