Platform
Go Weston

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 38, Spring 2014

Page 40

Platform
Go Weston

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 38, Spring 2014

Page 40

Platform
Go Weston

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 38, Spring 2014

Page 40

Platform
Go Weston

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 38, Spring 2014

Page 40

Platform
Go Weston

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 38, Spring 2014

Page 40

Hilary Weston, former Governor of Ontario and owner of Selfridge's has created a gallery in her Florida retreat. What's more, she asked London's Whitechapel Gallery to curate the shows. She tells Lucinda Bredin why art matters

For the past three years, The Whitechapel Gallery in London's so-called gritty East End has organized a series of exhibitions in a gated community in Florida. They say opposites attract, but still... The Whitechapel, it's fair to say, prides itself on serving a mixed demographic. It's true that house prices in the area are soaring past Hampstead's and that the local population, that once boasted more than 14,000 artists, almost certainly now has more coffee bar baristas. But not long ago the anarchist bookshop next door to the gallery let off stink bombs to greet dignitaries arriving for a private view. It remains a gloriously unpredictable area.

Windsor Beach, Vero, Florida is nothing like this, not by a long chalk. It's calm and controlled. It's orderly, manicured. People – when you see them – transport themselves along the wide boulevards in electric buggies. Those who think 'Truman Show' are closer to the truth than they might realize: the film was shot in Seaside, Florida, designed by the same architects, Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk of the new urbanist movement. And golf plays a big role.

This 'private residential community' – all 416 acres of it – was started from scratch over two decades ago by Galen and Hilary Weston, from the family of Canadian grocery magnates which also owns Selfridge's. The Westons have arrived this morning for the opening of the Whitechapel's latest Windsor, Florida exhibition, Shadow and Substance, an exhibition of Jasper Johns' prints which is hung throughout four rooms at the purpose-built gallery-cum-clubhouse. At the dinner held later that evening, Iwona Blazwick, the Director of the Whitechapel, manages with considerable skill to grip the attention of the guests – some of whom own properties here, others who have traveled up from Miami – with her talk about the recurrence of certain motifs in Johns' work.

The atmosphere is part History of Art Class 101, part country club. Is this a random bolt-on to the development? Or is art something that's close to the Westons' hearts? According to Blazwick, it's most definitely the later and Hilary Weston is not just a convenient figurehead for the gallery, but the "guiding intelligence". And, as she adds, "There is a real hunger for this. People travel to see the show, there's a sense of pilgrimage."

The gallery, as Hilary Weston explains the following morning, was founded in 2002 by her daughter, Alannah, who is now the Deputy Chairman of Selfridge's. "Alannah and her friend, Bettina von Hase made it happen. They did a couple of exhibitions with works on paper and photography. Then they got quite ambitious... and worked with Ed Ruscha." The celebrated Californian artist was just the first in a long line of major artists who have shown at the gallery including Peter Doig, Alex Katz, and Romanian twins, Gert and Uwe Tobias. From this foundation, the idea to work with Iwona Blazwick and The Whitechapel arose over conversation at a long dinner.

We are sitting in Mrs Weston's sitting room, which is off the courtyard of her neo-colonial style beach house overlooking the Atlantic. It is a scene that looks as if the pages of Architectural Digest have come to life. Despite the late night, Mrs Weston, dressed in a pair of white trousers and a striped shirt, has an effortless elegance, but then she is used to life in the public eye. She served as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 1997 to 2002 and is patron of many organizations supporting social issues, and in particular promoting literacy. Art seems to be quite a latecomer to the party? Up to a point. As she says, "Alannah introduced me to contemporary art – she held shows in her bedroom, hung art in the loo and invited Saatchi around. When I was Governor, I shocked people by taking down the portraits of the previous governors and asking the Royal Canadian Academy to curate contemporary art shows. They said, 'How could you do that?" but I got away with it. Now thousands of people going through those rooms can see Canadian contemporary art. The present governor does exhibits all the time now."

Weston was born in Dublin, where her father had an electrical appliance store. The family affinity was for books which were "piled everywhere. Despite the fact that we must have sold the first television in Ireland, in our household it was only allowed on at certain times of the day." She says that the first time she "really engaged with looking at art properly" was when she married Galen Weston in 1966, having met him in Ireland while she was working in fashion. Given her family's passion for literature, it is not surprising that her way into painting was through the Bloomsbury Group. "I bought Augustus John's portrait of Dorelia. Then I bought several of the Bloomsbury group paintings, which was the first moment of actually buying things myself. They're still on the walls in Toronto." There must have been competition as Galen Weston had inherited paintings – "Wonderful horse pictures by Sartorius, things like that." But together the couple began to buy Renaissance drawings, "and that is something we still do. We are always improving. That's what you do, don't you?"

That all sounds within the bounds of traditional taste, but then Galen had a moment and, according to Hilary, fell "madly in love" with the work of Christo, the Bulgarian artist whose projects included wrapping the Reichstag and the Pont Neuf in Paris. Hilary remembers it as a very exciting time. "Of course, Christo was a wonderful draftsman, and we were helping to support him by buying his architectural drawings of what he wanted to achieve." The drawings were given an exhibition at the Windsor gallery in 2012.

For someone whose family is the second richest in Canada (and No 145 on the Forbes list), Hilary Weston, now aged 72 – and allegedly a close friend of The Queen – also seems to have had her own Damascene moment. As she says, "Art is almost an alternative religion, isn't it? At whatever age you are, you are learning constantly and discovering something in the work and something in yourself that attracts you to the work. It's sad that art is becoming another dimension to your investment portfolio, because in the end it is the work that is the important thing. We are losing sight of the internal experience that occurs between the viewer and the art itself."

As yet, the plans for next year's show at Windsor have not been revealed. "There are a lot of things we are discussing with the Whitechapel, and Iwona and I are talking about how we might move forward." All she will say on the subject is: "It's a question of where we can go next."

Lucinda Bredin is Editor of Bonhams Magazine.

Jasper Johns: Shadow and Substance, until 30 April. The Whitechapel Gallery at Windsor, 3125 Windsor Boulevard, Vero Beach, Florida. Call +1 772 388 4071 to arrange visit or email gallery@windsorflorida.com

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