Billionaire retailer, art collector and philanthropist Naomi Milgrom, described as a “cashmere steamroller’’ , has launched an ambitious architecture and design project that might be as significant and visible in her home-town of Melbourne as her husband, John Kaldor’s Public Arts Projects, have long been in Sydney.
The Naomi Milgrom Foundation is funding a four year project called ‘MPavilion’ that will see a temporary structure built in Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Memorial Gardens directly opposite the National Gallery of Victoria. The MPavilion will host design and architecture exhibitions, talks and performances during the spring and summer months, though no details were given and will not be released until August 19.
Milgrom’s idea for Melbourne was inspired by London’s Serpentine Pavilion in Hyde Park, and she has enlisted the financial support of the state government and the City of Melbourne. Its Lord Mayor, Robert Doyle, coined her new nickname “the cashmere steamroller” at the launch of the project today.
“Every city needs a Naomi Milgrom,” Doyle said, adding that the investment in the city was akin to the faith city founders put in Melbourne’s built environment in the 1880s when it became “Marvellous Melbourne”.
The MPavilion structure will be commissioned each year with the inaugural design created by architect Sean Godsell. His pavilion will open on October 6 as part of the Melbourne Festival, The design will include wall and roof panels that open and close on pneumatic arms. These will “bloom like a flower” each morning when it opens, and have a “mysterious box-like quality at night” Godsell said in a statement.
The Serpentine is listed as one of MPavilion’s ”collaborators” along with about 25 Melbourne arts institutions including theatres, universities and the nearby Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) of which Milgrom was once chair.
Milgrom owns the Sussan fashion group, which she bought from her parents Marc and Eva Besen in 2003. She and the Besen family are long-time collectors and donors in the visual arts. In 2000 they created their own Tarrawarra Museum of Art at their winery in the Yarra Valley.
Migrom is also credited with encouraging her Sydney-based husband to give part of his collection of contemporary art to the Art Gallery of NSW in 2011. At the time the $35 million John Kaldor gift was the largest single gift to an Australian public gallery.
About 100 or so Melbourne arts leaders watched Milgrom turn the first sod this morning in pale sunshine opposite the NGV. That institution has itself upped its credentials in design and contemporary art since Tony Ellwood re-joined it as director in 2012, so an association between it and MPavilion would seem to make sense.
But the NGV is not an MPavilion “collaborator” , and indeed no-one from its staff or management was invited to the MPavilion launch today, an NGV spokesperson confirmed.
This isn’t all that surprising considering its messy treatment of Milgrom. She left as chair of ACCA to serve on the NGV’s Board of Trustees in 2003 to 2004. In 2011 she was to re-join the NGV as its President of Trustees, but after the planned appointment became public there was a behind the scenes backlash , and her appointment by Premier Ted Baillieu did not proceed.