Watters’ gift captures five decades of Australian art
The largest single donation to the UTS collection is a very personal statement from a man whose soul is fed by art and who has ‘simply loved living amongst it’.
The relationship between UTS and Sydney collector and gallery owner Frank Watters began with the Big Bang. This “huge cosmic landscape painting” by Richard Larter was first loaned, then donated to the university.
Two decades on, the association has culminated in The Watters Gift, a donation of 67 Australian artworks by 27 artists from Frank Watters’ personal collection and commemorated in a digital and print publication launched today.
UTS curator Tania Creighton shepherded the relationship with Watters over many years, and says the bequest is the largest single donation to the UTS art collection since its inception in 1988.
His was a very personal collection, Creighton writes in her catalogue essay, with many works given to him by the artists themselves.
Frank was not driven by arcane encyclopaedic ambition or the incentive of investment.
Tania Creighton, curator of The Watters Gift
She recalls his apartment with its “many graceful and wild artworks gleaned together into a mildly unruly, delightfully unfettered and beguiling whole”.
“Frank was not driven by arcane encyclopaedic ambition or, like many collectors, the incentive of investment. Art fed his soul and he simply loved living amongst it,” says Creighton, whose curation of the gift is her last after 19 years at UTS.
Frank Watters’ association with UTS began in 2000, when the university took on a long-term loan of the large-scale multi-panel Big Bang – a “no-holds-barred, crowd-pulling, roof-raising, Olympic-scaled show stopper”, wrote a critic in The Sydney Morning Herald. Watters donated the work in 2008 and it hangs on Level 6 of the UTS Tower.
Watters Gallery, one of Australia’s longest-running and most influential commercial galleries, closed its doors in 2018 after 54 years. The UTS donation is a vibrant snapshot of Australian artistic practice across five decades, and includes works by Richard Larter, John Peart, Ruth Waller, Chris O’Doherty and Euan Macleod.
Frank Watters’ legacy reminds us that art is the deepest expression of our culture and is worth protecting.
Stella Rosa McDonald, UTS curator
UTS curator Stella Rosa McDonald says Frank Watters gave the artists he worked with a most important gift – time.
“Time to experiment, time to make mistakes, time to find the courage to protest and discover new modes of expression. Many of the artists included in Frank Watters’ gift to UTS went on to become some of Australia’s most critically acclaimed, while Watters Gallery paved the way for the arts scene in Sydney as we know it today,” McDonald says.
“At a time that is deeply troubling for the livelihoods of artists and arts workers, and during a period of uncertain change for the galleries and institutions that employ them, Frank Watters’ legacy and that of Watters Gallery feels particularly poignant. It reminds us that art – sometimes difficult and always humanising – is the deepest expression of our culture and is worth protecting.”
The UTS Art collection comprises 850 permanent works and is a rich resource for teaching and learning.
"When I see artworks across the campus, I am struck by how they foster a dynamic environment of thought and critique,” says Attila Brungs, UTS Vice-Chancellor and President.
“Every artwork tells a story that stimulates the creative and critical minds we foster, contributing to the diversity and richness of the UTS experience. Just as important, art also brings alternative perspectives into the daily lives of our staff, students and visitors.”
To coincide with the launch of The Watters Gift, UTS Ensemble in Residence, the Australia Piano Quartet, will produce Soundscapes, a “sonic response to artworks in the gift that celebrate landscapes and the transcendent beauty of the Australian natural environment”.
Members of the quartet will connect from their separate locations in London, Adelaide and from UTS Gallery to perform celebrated works by Australian composers. Soundscapes will be scheduled weekly from June 1 and will be available on the UTS Gallery and Art Collection website and social media channels.
The Watters Gift, curated by Tania Creighton, is online until July 17, 2020. A planned exhibition in UTS Gallery was unable to proceed because of COVID-19 restrictions, but the works are being displayed across the campus.