Generous gift establishes new research Chair

Philanthropist Judith Neilson has donated $6 million to endow a Chair in Contemporary Art.


Left to right: Dean of Art & Design Ross Harley, Judith Neilson and Emeritus Professor Alec Tzannes

Philanthropist and White Rabbit Gallery founder Judith Neilson AM has made her second major donation to UNSW with the announcement of the Judith Neilson Chair in Contemporary Art.

The Professorial Chair will work between UNSW Art & Design and Sydney’s internationally recognised White Rabbit Gallery to lead rigorous scholarly research.  

White Rabbit Gallery is home to one of the world’s most significant collections of Chinese contemporary art and UNSW Art & Design is ranked in the top 30 art and design schools in the QS World University Rankings.

With privileged access to the White Rabbit collection, the Judith Neilson Chair in Contemporary Art will develop new knowledge and a better understanding of the global significance of China’s art and culture.

“Chinese contemporary art reflects the history and transformation of China and is a mirror on the world beyond."

UNSW Art & Design Dean, Professor Ross Harley, described the funding of the Chair in Contemporary Art, which also includes the appointment of a postdoctoral fellow, as a “transformative act of philanthropy” and a timely contribution to cultural scholarship.

“It is imperative that UNSW and Australia contribute to research and dialogue in contemporary Chinese culture internationally. Judith’s visionary and generous gift ensures UNSW Art & Design students, staff and wider communities can participate in these important conversations,” Harley says.

“The emergence of contemporary Chinese art over recent decades has shifted visual culture internationally and will continue to shape and transform China as a global cultural, social and economic power.”

As founder and director of White Rabbit Gallery, Ms Neilson said she was motivated to make the major investment to expand the study of contemporary Chinese art in a global and historic context.

“Chinese contemporary art reflects the history and transformation of China and is a mirror on the world beyond. It is alive with ideas and energy, vibrant, often humorous, imaginative, technically superb and utterly compelling,” Neilson says.

“We must give the work, the artists, and the distinctive and shared traditions the rigorous critical attention they deserve.” 

Neilson has now donated $16 million to the University. In January 2015, UNSW announced a $10 million Judith Neilson Chair in Architecture to research the design of affordable housing for people displaced by natural disasters, geopolitical conflicts, and economic and environmental factors.

UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs acknowledged Neilson’s extraordinary generosity and vision.

“This new Professorial Chair and Judith’s gift will strengthen the growing cultural and artistic bonds between China and Australia on the world stage. UNSW is committed to building enduring and reciprocal partnerships between China and Australia encompassing culture, education, research and innovation.”