Ron and George Adams: A Full Life

Intimately familiar with every work hanging on their walls, Ron and George Adams are quickly running out of room for all the friends in their collection.

Words: Tai Mitsuji

Photography: Nick De Lorenzo

All art collections are personal. Yet this self-evident truth becomes almost redefined with the works in George and Ron Adams’ apartment. Nearly every inch of every wall is covered in paintings from artists that the pair have known, admired, and worked with over the years. “I know all of these people quite intimately,” Ron says. “The artworks are like your friends: they are good memories, they are good dates.” Gesturing freely around the space, the pair are able to locate each of the pieces with an autobiographic precision that belies their collection’s vastness. They point at some sculptures by Ricky Swallow, direct my attention to a piece by Nell, muse on a Matthys Gerber painting, recall an artistic souvenir from Mikala Dwyer, and situate the significance of Katharina Grosse. It’s a tour de force. I’m out of breath and I’m only listening. 

Of course, I should not be surprised. The Adams have been a part of Australia’s arts ecosystem for many years, having started the artist-run-initiative MOP Projects in 2003 and more recently Galerie pompom in 2012. Before shutting its doors in 2016, MOP Projects had staged 400 shows and shown more than 800 artists. And some part of this sprawling history finds a place on the Adams’ walls. “A lot of our collection is from the people we have met, who have had an early exhibition at MOP Projects,” George explains, before Ron continues. “It’s wonderful seeing people who have had their first exhibition with you and then have gone on to show at the Venice Biennale.” He isn’t exaggerating, either. Artists like Newell Harry exhibited at MOP Projects before moving to Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery and representing Australia at the 56th Venice Biennale. 

The Adams’ collection does not need narration, yet the artworks somehow become more animated when the two describe them. Where others might wrap their collection in dry stuffiness, the pair treat the work with the easy intimacy of old friends. They catch me looking at a strange yet galvanising painting of a reptile by Matthew Harris, which sits above their dining room table. “Matthew is the most adorable man. Very cheeky, very naughty,” Ron says, just as George adds, “he had a show with us and when I put it up I said to him ‘it’s so bad that it’s great.’” As I stifle a laugh, Ron points at the work and assures me, “there is nothing wrong going on there: it’s just a devil with a penis feeding on a virgin and farting out a ghost.” 

George and Ron met in fifth grade, and one detects this past in their seamlessly overlapping sentences and unspoken understanding. Their long history together has been accompanied by an equally sustained interest in collecting. Even in the early days, the two recall collecting vinyls – often just for the album covers. “It’s something that’s in your blood,” Ron says. “I remember being really young, even at my 21st, and thinking I’m going to spend all the money I’ve made on artwork.” The walls of their apartment suggest that little has changed. When I mention this observation to the pair, Ron replies, only half-jokingly, that they haven’t put any works on the ceiling yet, while George leads me into the adjoining room. We walk past a Francis Bacon, a Sidney Nolan, and a James Gleeson, before we come to the room’s corner, and George points to a small space in the upper-reaches of the wall: a precious piece of empty real estate. “This spot here really bothers me,” he says.

This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 97, July to September 2021.

Image: Matthys Gerber’s A Life Full Of Holes, 2000 hangs behind George Adams (left) and Ron Adams (right). Courtesy: Ron and George Adams.

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