MoMA s billion dollar babies
Pablo Picasso’s 3.5m wide Night Fishing at Antibes is one of the modern masterpieces on show. Picture: Picasso/Licensed by Viscopy.

Perth has rarely seen anything quite like it.

Cool and culture collided in the Art Gallery of WA ahead of the public opening of Picasso to Warhol: Fourteen Modern Masters. With the concourse enveloped in lush red drapes from ceiling to floor, together with jazz and stylish cocktails, an exclusive New York club atmosphere was created for the lucky 1400-odd people who managed to secure tickets to last night's opening party or VIP preview on Wednesday.

Director Stefano Carboni is the man of the moment with his vision of six exhibitions of iconic works from the Museum of Modern Art over three years, virtually creating a revolving door of entry to MoMA via Perth.

At the VIP preview attended by MoMA director Glenn Lowry, Premier Colin Barnett acknowledged a rare alignment of vision, passion and trust to bring the concept to fruition. Mr Barnett praised Culture and Arts Minister John Day for his role in securing additional Government funding of $6 million, with the costs also met by sponsorships, ticket sales and merchandising.

"Convincing everyone in Cabinet is no mean feat. He kept pushing it at weekly meetings until everyone just gave up," Mr Barnett said.

While Dr Carboni pulls Perth up by its cultural bootstraps, the question on everyone's lips is how much the 120-plus works, including those by Mondrian, Leger, Duchamp and Matisse, are worth in crude dollar terms.

With Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust fetching $106 million at Christie's in New York in 2010 and Warhol's Eight Elvises selling for $106.9 million in 2008, the Perth exhibition stretches to an unimaginable figure in the billions.

It is believed the works arrived in about a dozen shipments from the US, with insurance conditions setting a limit of $200 million for each one. At least one work, Picasso's epic-scale Night Fishing at Antibes, travelled on its own.

The gallery would not comment on the value or the logistics of the show, citing insurance and security obligations.

Former gallery director Alan Dodge, who organised key shows such as Monet & Japan, St Petersburg 1900 and Egyptian Antiquities from the Louvre, said the question comes up every time there's a big show in town.

"There is often a limit per carrier based on the value of the works," Mr Dodge says. "Most lenders insist on someone travelling with the works from the moment they leave the lending institution, either the registrar, a conservator, or someone working at the receiving gallery, until the moment they arrive at the destination gallery. You can imagine the logistics if an exhibition has works coming from many lenders. The advantage of this exhibition is they're all coming from one place," he says.

"To get the loans in the first place there has to be trust, a reasonable amount of money, because other places can offer much more money, and it has to be well managed. I went to Russia every year for 10 years to get the trust of museums for the St Petersburg 1900 exhibition. You have to have guts to pull it off, that's for sure."

Mr Dodge says Carboni is performing a great service to the people of Perth. "The quality of the loans is sensational, too good for just one visit. With Jeff Wall also showing, you have modern art at it best. But you know you've cut through to a wider audience if your hairdresser is talking about it," Dodge says before dashing off to his own hairdresser, fully expecting an in-depth conversation about the show. <div class="endnote">

Picasso to Warhol: Fourteen Modern Masters runs until December 3. Tickets at Ticketek. </div>

The West Australian

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