Go Figure: The Germanos Collection

Ahead of their collection's exhibition at Macquarie University Art Gallery, Judith Pugh visited Gaibrielle and Max Germanos in their art-filled home.

Relationship. Joanna Braithwaite’s portrait of loved but departed Pepper, wearing a carrot, is in the “family portraits” section, with the recent Caroline Zilinsky Weimar Republic–referencing double portrait of Max and Gaibrielle Germanos and Huxley. The artist Euan Macleod has curated the Macquarie University Art Gallery’s current exhibition from the Germanos collection. Macleod has selected others of Max and Gabby. The lovely 2021 Swimmers for Gabby group portrait of their children by Clara Adolphs, Adolphs’s portraits of Gabby’s father and of Max’s parents and brother will be included, together with Vanessa Stockard’s of each of their children, Grace, Maddison, and Alec. 

These family portraits are a very small element of this big collection, but they provide a way to encapsulate the experience of a first visit to the Germanos home. Macleod’s pick will be very interesting, as he has known the Germanoses for many years. For this writer, the focus of the collection is Relationship. Not only with family, but – through their work – with artists, and also with the works themselves. Relationship, Curiosity, Joy; leading to calm.

We arrived at two o’clock on the Sunday before school resumed after the summer holidays, hoping to spend possibly two hours, so the family could prepare for school. Max welcomed Joe Kinsela and me; it was a very humid hot day, “perhaps we should get in the pool?” But I was conscious of school and intrusion, so we began to wander the house. We talked, contemplating and hearing stories about the multitude of pictures and objects in the kitchen, bedrooms, loos, and bathrooms, and of their makers. The Zilinsky double portrait was on the floor; we held it above the television screen. It may well hang there between two of their many Adam Cullens, these about the Kelly gang. Some of the paintings were wrapped – the Germanoses are extending to have more room to hang. They collect many more than one example of particular artists, forming friendships as well as acquiring. Max calls it his “addiction.” 

This habit is long-term and committed, the collection shows an artist grow and change.  It seemed vulgar to ask, but they must have more than twenty works by McLean Edwards. The draft exhibition catalogue shows more Euan Macleods and Brent Harrises than one would see in a gallery stockroom; three wonderful Ken Whissons chattered to each other as we chatted. Many of the works are of museum quality. On a slim wall in the hall hang delicate, amusing Noel McKenna tiles – another a set of his happy images are – in the kitchen? The small images meet the strength of Madeline Pfull’s 2021 Three Sisters – Max discussed some of her other paintings in the collection – and stand up to David Griggs’s 2012 Bye Bye Cullen. The eye is drawn to Pierre Mukeba’s 2018 Innocence, beside the Pfull, returning to Reg Mombassa’s 2003 Mambo Kengareewe: The Bruised Fruit of a Trans-Tasman Miscegenetic Threesome.  

Every room in the house is replete with paintings and objects, but consistent merit aside, there’s no sense of museum or interior designer. Everything – paintings, ceramics, sculptures, prints, drawings – has a story, is connected, is in Relationship. Then Gabby joined us. After two hours I turned off the iPhone recording I was helped to activate by Alec, whose LEGO collection with its glowing buildings itself deserves attention.

Then we all sat talking until nine o’clock, through cheese and biscuits and – after Gabby’s brief absence – a delicious lasagne and salad and many chocolates. Gabby made thoughtful remarks with humour and precision, answered questions and commented. Max questioned me, and we shared anecdotes comparing earlier artworlds with the one in which Max, and Gabby and Max’s brainchild, 3:33 Art Projects, now partake. Max drives the collection, which has few non-objective pieces – he says he is not interested in abstraction – but drew our attention to pure passages of paint in the pictures he admires. 

He loves McLean Edwards, coincidentally the artist to whose work he and Gabby independently responded, and whose vigorous self-portrait as a blue cowboy welcomes the visitor opposite the front door. It’s a North Shore Sydney twenties-style house, from that period when domestic architecture gave up hierarchy and became democratic: a suite of large-windowed rooms opening off a welcoming, wide entrance hall, all with big walls and with few narrow corridors. The collection, as much as the family, needed more space than offered by the terrace where the couple began buying art in the late 1990s. 

Max mentions someone remarking, “The North Shore is a cultural desert,” although he dismisses the remark: “Tony Tuckson and Grace Cossington Smith lived on the North Shore.” His surprise and – is it hurt? It is certainly also disdain – provides an insight into the Max painted by his friends. This big-framed man – energetic, exuberant, more than talkative, who claims to have a short attention span but misses nothing – is a banker, negotiating in the commercial world, and an entrepreneur, opening opportunities for artists to advance their careers.  

But Max is portrayed by friends – Macleod, Reg Mombassa, Jasper Knight, Fiona Lowry, David Griggs, Zilinsky – as sensitive, watchful, even withdrawn. Knight and Griggs might also suggest tough and shrewd, but his artist friends respect and understand him as thoughtful, quiet, and careful. The Weimar reference in the Zilinsky is ironic. They and the puppy seem not to be sitting for the portrait, and they are certainly not worried about the outcome. They and Huxley are black-and-white, in a white, light, and perfectly symmetrical room having a warm wooden floor. The bright, patterned carpet is the only thing with an eye regarding the viewer. 

Max and Gabby came separately to art, each working on corporate premises. 3:33 Art Projects began bringing artists together with lawyers and bankers; a Young Curators schools program is expanding. It all began for Max when a McLean Edwards picture interfered with his concentration during a formal corporate meeting. He devotes intense energy and concentration to each project. He claims to be impatient, but is very aware of every detail. He saw the painting, and accepted its challenge. Now, gesturing to a hectic wall, “this is my calm.”     

This essay was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 62, 2023.
Images courtesy the artists and Max and Gaibrielle Germanos.

Go Figure: The Germanos Collection
7 March – 1 May 2023
Macquarie University Art Gallery, Sydney 

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