Gene Sherman: What travel taught me


Departing the grand opening of the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa in 2004, a typhoon hit Tokyo. With all flights cancelled, a Japanese-speaking friend corralled a group of international museum guests desperate to get home, bundled us into a suite of taxis (mine shared with the director of the Louvre), and pushed through throngs of thousands at the train station. In packed, standing-only conditions, my friend delivered us safely to Tokyo where the weather had returned to normal.


Flying with an artist to Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan in order to meet the founder of a newly established private art foundation, we unexpectedly stopped in Brisbane for hours as a result of a mechanical fault. Arriving in Taipei at midnight we had long missed our connection to Kaohsiung, and took an overnight bus in the company of farmers and animals (multiple chickens and a single snake). We arrived at our hotel at dawn, showered and made our 9am meeting. Our host's first words – "How was your trip?" – were met with semi-hysterical laughter. Our mission was unsuccessful.


The Beijing Biennale in 2003 was the first ever contemporary art event organised by the People's Republic of China. Asked to provide major artworks with little notice, I selected two large Imants Tillers' pieces, one from our personal collection and the other from a private collector who had acquired the work from Sherman Galleries. On arriving in Beijing for me to direct the installation of 1000 separately numbered canvas boards, we found no sign of the works. After 24 hours of frantic search, without sleep, they were found in an anonymous office. An overnight flight by the Sherman installation head, followed by an all-night install confused by language, managed to complete the hang at the 11th hour. The absent artist won the grand prize.


In Paris recently, meeting speakers for SCCI Fashion Hubs, I tried to see as many critically acclaimed exhibitions as possible. Tomas Saraceno at the Palais de Tokyo was one of the most talked-about shows in town. The Gilets Jaunes protest had just started; roads were blocked and the exhibition space was difficult to access. I became distracted while calling my daughter in Tel Aviv. Finally entering, I then found two unexpected exhibitions. Oh well, I thought, the Saraceno show had closed. I forlornly returned to the hotel to finalise packing. Later, I learned that I had entered the wrong museum. The Saraceno show was still on – attracting thousands from around the world.

Gene Sherman is a leading Australian cultural figure and philanthropist, and the founder of the Sherman Centre for Culture and Ideas (SCCI), an annual events platform focusing on contemporary fashion and architecture. SCCI Fashion Hub 2019 will present its event program in Sydney, April 5-14. See