Barrister's $2m gift of rare Asian art

Michael Abbott, QC, with a 17th century Balinese temple door he donated to the Art Gallery of SA.

TIM LLOYD

July 18, 2008 12:30am

A $2 MILLION art gift yesterday has given the Art Gallery of South Australia national leadership in South East Asian art.

The gift of 75 rare textiles and objects, some dating back 2000 years or more, is from the Art Gallery's chairman and leading Adelaide barrister, Michael Abbott, QC.

Mr Abbott and his family have played a major role over many years in developing the Art Gallery's collection of Indian art.

The gallery's curator of Asian art, James Bennett, said the objects were very rare and a major achievement for the gallery. "It actually redefines our South East Asian Collection," he said. "It shows a very ancient link between Indonesia and Asia."

Mr Bennett said textiles dating back to the 14th century were found in Indonesia, but came from sources as diverse as Japan, India and The Netherlands, showing how cloths were used as part of the spice trade.

He said no other art gallery held such a collection. The cloths influenced art and culture across the region.

The oldest and the most important sculpture in Mr Abbott's gift is from Central Sulawesi, and represents two joined anthropomorphic figures dating to between 600 BC and 200AD

Mr Abbott was at Artlab yesterday, inspecting the restoration of one of his gifts, a carved temple door and lintel from Bali. The date of the door will be established by radio carbon dating, but Mr Abbott estimated it to be around 300 years old.

He said he came across the door while in Bali doing some research into Indian trade cloths.

"A passion of mine is to investigate the way trade from Gujarat (north east India) went from India, where the cloths were made, for exchange with Indonesian spices," he said.

Mr Abbott said he liked to collect art and objects and come to understand and appreciate them before some were passed on to the gallery, where he could visit them like old friends.

"I am hoping my gifts will encourage more donors," he said.

The collection will go on display at the Art Gallery in October after its restoration is complete.

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