The White Rabbit Collection is distinct from other significant collections of Chinese art because of its focus on work produced after 2000. Neilson has acquired pieces from the most celebrated artists to emerge in the post-Mao years, but she has never approached collecting in terms of ‘big names’ or by identifying gaps that need to be filled. Instead, drawing upon her art and design training and the deep knowledge she acquired in China visiting studios and galleries, she collects works that interest her, that ‘speak’ to her strong visual sense. As a result, Neilson has astutely collected works by young and emerging artists, many of whom have subsequently established global reputations.
When Judith Neilson first encountered contemporary Chinese art in the late 1990s, she immediately recognised that what she was seeing was unlike contemporary art produced anywhere else in the world. When Neilson visited Beijing in 2001 she saw for herself the circumstances in which art was produced, and met the people making it. She was struck by the technical virtuosity and conceptual richness of the work she found there. As she visited galleries and studios on subsequent visits to China – for many years she went as often as four times annually – she was often moved by the courage and resilience shown by artists of the first, avant-garde, generation following the Cultural Revolution, and how they had responded to the social transformation wrought by Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, which had opened China to world markets and foreign ideas.
An especially interesting aspect of the collection is how it reveals changes in contemporary art in China, evident in the work of successive generations of artists in this fast-transforming nation.