Dr Raymond (Ray) Robert Hughes (1946–2017) will be publicly remembered as one of Australia’s most flamboyant and passionate advocates for artists, particularly for those he spent most of his professional life representing as an art dealer. Privately, he was an inveterate traveller and bon vivant who developed an encyclopedic knowledge of art from his particular time and explorations, fuelled by voracious interests in literature and reading, long lunches with frank debate, politics, and Australian Rules football.
His first foray as an art dealer was in 1969 at Brisbane premises in Red Hill, which soon expanded, and he ultimately established his eponymous gallery in Surry Hills, Sydney, which ran from around 1985 until late 2015. Over several decades, Hughes’s early recognition of artistic talents yet to make a wider mark earned him a global reputation as an instinctive deal maker. In Venice, Beijing, Paris and New York, his contacts and friendships with artists and museum directors often afforded Australian clients unique opportunities.
He was fond of saying that his ‘main job was to teach people how to collect art’, and that contemporary art was ‘something best done in private’. From gallery rooms hung salon style, and stockrooms bulging with hundreds of works, he introduced audiences to the first commercial exhibitions of key Queensland figures, including Davida Allen, Madonna Staunton, William Robinson, Robert MacPherson, Joe Furlonger, Jun Chen, and many others.
Hughes was also one of the first in Australia to recognise the latent significance of Chinese contemporary art in the 1980s, and visited studios to meet artists such as Liu Xiaodong, Feng Zhengjie, Qi Zhilong and the Luo Brothers as they began their trajectories. While he collected significant examples of their work, and that of many other young artists, he also championed contemporary art from Africa, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand, as well as outsider artists from Europe and North America, and German expressionists.
Ray Hughes was sent off with a chequebook, cigarettes, some renminbi and photographs of art in stock, in case there is another deal to be made in the afterlife. He is survived by his son Evan, daughter-in-law Kate, and grandchildren Teddy and Harry.
Gift of Ray Hughes: Robert MacPherson’s POLAR BEARS
Extract from Ingrid Periz’s essay ‘The painter’s reach’ published in Robert MacPherson: The Painter’s Reach, QAGOMA, 2015
Gift of Ray Hughes: Jon Molvig’s Sun
Over many decades, Ray Hughes sold and donated numerous works of art to QAGOMA. Renowned Queensland artist Jon Molvig’s Sun is one such example of his generosity, and is currently on display at the Queensland Art Gallery in his honour.
Delve deeper into your Australian Collection
Extract from ‘Vale Ray Hughes 1946-2017’ by Simon Wright, Assistant Director, Learning and Public Engagement, QAGOMA published in the Gallery’s Artlines magazine, issue 1, 2018
Feature image detail: Jon Molvig’s Sun 1959