Buzzer's Blog - Art World Musings

The Axa Art Collection

Posted on Aug 31, 2018

I started acquiring artworks for myself, when I was a student in NCAD and continued the habit after graduation, amassing quite a number of works in the process. I also ran out of wall space. I had long thought that it would be possible for an organization (with plenty of unadorned walls to fill), to build a good and interesting collection, without a large financial outlay, by choosing work carefully over a length of time, rather than all at once, from artists at the start of their careers.    

In 1995, I heard that the new CEO of Guardian Insurance (now AXA) was interested in buying some pieces for the company.  I approached him with my idea, which he liked. We established a few basic guidelines:

The principal ethos of the collection would be the encouragement of young artists in a practical way, by purchasing work early on in their careers, thus giving them a sale when it really mattered and boosting their self-confidence.
The work would mostly be sourced from college degree shows, first exhibitions and directly from the artist. 

The first purchases for AXA, in 1995, were five paintings from students of the National College of Art and Design, at their Degree show.  Over the years I added work in a variety of mediums and from a variety of different colleges, studios and galleries. As well as more traditional paintings, prints and drawings, there are videos, stone, slate and wood carvings, mixed media, and stitched pieces. For 12 years AXA sponsored a Drawing Prize at the RHA’s Annual Exhibition; this helped to raise the profile of drawing as a medium in its own right, rather than as a study for a painting and the prize winning drawings were added to the collection.

Some of the artists whose work was acquired in the early days, such as James Hanley, Geraldine O’Neill, Remco de Fouw and Mark O’Kelly, found success rapidly. Others, whose work was acquired later, such as Taffina Flood, Patricia Burns, Bea Mc Mahon, Marcel Vidal and Sonia Shiels are now well established and are regular exhibiters in group and solo shows.

The 470 plus works in the AXA collection were purchased over a period of 21 years and represent a good cross section of the shifts and changes in the Irish art world during that time. All the work was bought from artists living, studying or exhibiting in Ireland.

Great credit is due to Gerard Healy, John O’Neill and Paul Moloney of AXA, who made the whole thing happen.

Bernadette Madden
August 29th 2018

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