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INSIDE TIM OLSEN'S WOOLLAHRA HOME | THE WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN

The Weekend Australian August 19 2017

Lisa Allen

Leonardo DiCaprio was recently a customer of Tim Olsen’s New York art gallery with the Hollywood movie star buying a work by a Western Desert painter. Olsen, the son of legendary artist John Olsen, opened the gallery in the Big Apple, Olsen Gruin, with a stable of American and European artists, and is attracting a “rustle” of cashed-up Australian expats and savvy collectors with an idle $US1 million to spend, saying he is used to “dealing in the seven figures”. However, at home in Jersey Road, Woollahra, next to his Eastern Suburbs gallery, Olsen, freshly returned from a holiday on the Isle of Capri where he worked on his book Son of the Brush, due to be published in October, is keen to talk Sydney real estate. Buying two adjoining Woollahra properties for about $4.9 million he developed a gallery and adjoining multi-level two-bedroom two-ensuite contemporary apartment, which is filled with thousands of books, while the walls groan with the weight of local and international artworks. “I have been here since 2007, and I have been meaning to move for five of those years. I like to be near the water (because) I grew up in Watsons Bay,” says Olsen, dressed in an aubergine velvet Italian jacket. “I can’t find the right place though. Every time I find a place, and get close, I get edged out.” Olsen has long eyed waterfront properties in Vaucluse and Watsons Bay. “(But) I get gazumped. Hopefully New York will afford me a waterfront, he says, adding that he quickly gets back on the horse if a deal collapses. “Essentially, real estate can be the same as buying pictures. The right place comes up at the right time for the right client. I get more excited selling a picture to the right client than the money. “You really want something special to go to someone who is really going to love it … who doesn’t just see it as an asset. “That is what makes me sad about the Sydney property market. A lot of people are buying purely on the basis of investment not for the love of the house or the city. “It’s the same with the art world. I really don’t like it when people buy something because it has Olsen or Whiteley in the corner but ­without an appreciation or understanding. These are people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Despite his desire to be on the water, Olsen, who also grew up in France and Spain, says he loves his Jersey Road house. “There’s a wonderful history to it. It was once a warehouse where horse drawn rail lines were coming into the building and there was a crane to lift the carriages. “I have built a French loft (and) I like the idea of a Paris studio with art and books everywhere and a balcony looking out. My son James lives upstairs, he loves, like I do, being in a house of colour,” says Olsen, who adds that James, although not showing signs of being highly academic, is very good at art, music and drama. Sculptures, cooking and poetry books litter the apartment, with Olsen declaring that he loves cooking Mediterranean food given his European childhood. “I love lots of olive oil, garlic, slow cooking … I like casseroles and sexy stews.” Olsen then points to the works of art. “All my little bits of art take me back to memories, not always good memories but pertinent experiences,” he says. There’s a large shell his grandfather brought back from World War I and a favourite childhood sculpture by Mike Brown called Mug Lair, which Olsen likes if he is in a good mood. “I grew up looking at that sculpture. I related to that sculpture in those days more than my father’s work, because it was like a totem at play, I was only 3 or 4 years old.” But if he is in a wistful mood he is drawn to a Lake Eyre contemplative picture adorning a wall facing the sleek kitchen. “It reminds me that among all the ego of the art world how infinitesimal I am in the world let alone in the universe. I am a tiny little piece of maintaining hope in a corporatised community.” Sculptures, cooking and poetry books litter the apartment, with Olsen declaring that he loves cooking Mediterranean food given his European childhood. “I love lots of olive oil, garlic, slow cooking … I like casseroles and sexy stews.” Olsen then points to the works of art. “All my little bits of art take me back to memories, not always good memories but pertinent experiences,” he says. There’s a large shell his grandfather brought back from World War I and a favourite childhood sculpture by Mike Brown called Mug Lair, which Olsen likes if he is in a good mood. “I grew up looking at that sculpture. I related to that sculpture in those days more than my father’s work, because it was like a totem at play, I was only 3 or 4 years old.” But if he is in a wistful mood he is drawn to a Lake Eyre contemplative picture adorning a wall facing the sleek kitchen. “It reminds me that among all the ego of the art world how infinitesimal I am in the world let alone in the universe. I am a tiny little piece of maintaining hope in a corporatised community.” Another favourite is a portrait of his godfather, the late art critic Robert Hughes. For the future, Olsen says he may look at opening another international gallery in London. “I am not frightened of opening in a different market … I believe in Australian art (but) too many artists over there (in the US) have a chip on their shoulder. “(I say) if it is good art, it is good art. “The great thing about being Australian is you have a strong connection with the land, in a place like Manhattan a dealer who is earthed has a place,” he says.

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