John Kaldor: shaping public art in Australia and beyond

 The Art Syndicate Staff Writer: Constanza Ontiveros Valdés

“If the story of modern and contemporary art in Australia had a defining moment, it was the very first Kaldor project.” -Edmund Capon, Former Director, Art Gallery of NSW (1940-2019).


John Kaldor is a contemporary art collector and patron, and an undisputable visionary. More so, he is an outspoken voice for making contemporary art available to all and a relentless advocate of Australia. Resulting from these convictions, during the last 50 years, Kaldor has challenged the boundaries of public art by orchestrating cutting-edge, large-scale, and once unthinkable art projects across Australia. But, how did this incredible life-long journey begin?


During the mid-1960s, Hungary-born Kaldor was already a well-traveled young man and was knowledgeable of the latest international contemporary art developments creating bonds with artists and art dealers alike. On one faithful day, he put his eye on the work by French duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and secured funds to have them travel to Australia. Long story short, this turned out to be a historic moment when in, October 1969, thanks to Kaldor’s relentless drive, the couple finally unveiled Wrapped Coast, One Million Square Feet, Little Bay, a work that covered 2.5 km of Little Bay in Sydney, with more than 93,000 m2 of fabric.


Now, today this project may not seem so far-fetched since we are used to seeing public art in squares and parks across the world and you may have seen some of the larger works by this dynamic couple, but at the time it was the biggest scale artwork ever created and was once dubbed as “impossible.” The project also marked the exposure of Australians to international contemporary art and put Australia on the art map, all these 4 years before the first Biennale of Sydney.


After this seminal project Kaldor started his own textile company, John Kaldor Fabricmaker, and created Kaldor Public Art Projects. To this date, KPAP has put together 34 public art projects created by international artists that have redefined the art of our times. For example, he has invited no other than Sol Le Witt, Nam June Paik, Marina  Abramović, Jeff Koons, and Anri Sala. The invited artists have presented all sorts of mediums from video art, performance, and music to installations, and food art. It was until 2016 when the first Australian artist, Jonathan Jones, was commissioned an artwork.


Throughout his life, Kaldor has been a strong advocate of making his projects available to all by making them free of admission. Also, John is passionate about introducing new and old generations to contemporary art, so he has put together an ambitious education program targeting KPAP audiences,  kids and teenagers, and young artists and curators. Kaldor has also participated in many art organizations including P.S.1 (NY), the Tate Modern (London), and the Biennale of Sydney. He has also been selected two times as commissioner for the Australian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2005 and 2007).


Importantly, from a young age, Kaldor was also an avid collector of international contemporary art, and in 2011 decided to give his collection to the Art Gallery of NSW. The collection has a strong minimalist component, video art, and some performative art as well. This gift marked a historic milestone for the institution and aligned with Kaldor´s desire to share art with the world.


When KPAP reached its 40th birthday it had a celebratory exhibition, and on its 50th anniversary just last year, the exhibition Making art public, took place at AGNSW. Also, a documentary, directed by Samantha Lang, was released. We will surely continue to see how Kaldor keeps on reshaping public art and what art education entails. Stay tuned as we explore some of the projects Kaldor has facilitated through the years.

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