Bryan Montgomery

 

Bryan Montgomery

1929 - 2008

Art Entrepreneur, Patron, Collector, Benefactor

Hugh Bryan Greville Montgomery died in December in his 80th year. He was chairman and Director of the Andry Montgomery Exhibitions Group, a company started by his grandfather, MP for Bridgewater, who in 1895 displayed clay products in the House of Commons to support the ailing West Country industries. The Montgomery companies now organise a full calendar of trade and cultural events on all continents with offices worldwide.

Bryan Montgomery’s passion for art also ran to 30 years of collecting paintings and prints from the early 60s period. He also commissioned sculpture for a further 14 years. He was very much a private collector and backer of individual creativity and talent wherever he found it. Even in a busy life of organising fairs, he managed to justify the commissioning of artists, sculptors and architects.

Expanding audiences for art

In 1984, combining exhibition expertise with his love of art, Bryan Montgomery’s organisation staged ICAF, London’s first international contemporary art fair. The Arts Minister Lord Gowrie became President and the board of luminaries included Nancy Balfour, Luke Rittner, Sir Peter Wakefield, Caryl Hubbard and Sir Hugh Casson, and later Nicholas Serota, Sandy Nairne, Tim Clifford, Bill Packer, Marina Vaizey and Adrian Ward Jackson. The early days at the Barbican had showings from sixty galleries, among them Blond, Nigel Greenwood, Hilger, Levy, Lisson, Mayor, Piccadilly, Scottish Gallery, Totah and Bernard Jacobson.

In 1986 the Fair outgrew the Barbican and moved to Olympia where it was staged annually until 1991 and where the roster of galleries exceeded 100 from 19 countries and the art seminars offered 50 speakers in 20 sessions. Major sponsors included British Airways, major car manufacturers, national dailies and banking interests. Graphics came from Dick Negus, Bruce McLean, Howard Hodgkin and Peter Blake.

Montgomery’s ICAF had earlier changed its title to ART/London and in 1986 Montgomery launched ART/LA, the first international contemporary art fair of Los Angeles. He timed this to coincide with the opening of LA’s new MOCA, whose Director Richard Koshalek warmly welcomed the Fair, telling Montgomery “you are bringing many overseas collectors and artists to our city and helping to expand art audiences. This is very good for our new museum too” Montgomery’s intention had been just that. He aimed to blend good art and artists with the investment power of the city’s entertainment industries.

With glitzy gala openings in the downtown convention centre, galleries exhibited annually from all over the world, rubbing shoulders with ‘new’ buying power, jostling celebrity collectors like Steve Martin, Sylvester Stallone, Madonna, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John McEnroe, Doug Cramer and Marcia Weisman. Yearly the Montgomery Fair sponsored “Talking Art” sessions; many linking the City’s other developing cultures in museums, architecture, opera and fashion. Speakers and guests included David Hockney, Barbara Kruger, Ed Ruscha, John Baldesseri, Gilbert and George, Richard Meier and Renzo Piano. The impact of ART/LA was unprecedented. Montgomery brought in groups from art museums worldwide, and collectors and audiences, many new to art, arrived from throughout America, Europe and Asia. Carolyn Campbell, a leading US art advocate noted “Montgomery’s initiative in creating Art/LA had, without question, an enormous impact on the emergence of Los Angeles as a significant player on the global arts scene. These were real pioneering art fairs and this one owes Montgomery…big time.”

Funding for new film and theatre

Bryan Montgomery’s company also sponsored The Academy of St Martin in the Fields and he personally supported film and furniture makers, theatre productions including Derek Jarman (Sebastiane), John Maybury, and Celestino Coronado who directed two Shakespeare adaptations - one of Hamlet (with Helen Mirren, Quentin Crisp and the Meyer twins) and one of A Midsummer Night's Dream (based on Lindsay Kemp's Stage production); both films now reside with the British Film Institute. Montgomery also supported the long-running West-End hit, No Sex Please We're British, starring Michael Crawford, and financed the first production of Flowers, Lindsay Kemp's cult mime show at the Bush Theatre in 1973.

His tastes remained independent from market trends, and his collection of over 350 works was built with modest personal resources. He preferred to back individual creativity rather than patronise galleries and subscribe to fashionable trends. He did however help the development of Nigel Greenwood’s gallery in the 1960s and 1970s and collected from others including Austin Desmond, Angela Flowers, Rebecca Hossack and Fred Mann at Milch, purchasing works mostly by artists at the beginning of their careers. The art works had consequently an unpredictable feel, largely non-figurative, often challenging but always with discernible craft skill in evidence.

The acquisitions included many early works of numerous artists and also stunning works by John Walker, Kes Zapkus Keith Milow Bill Jacklin, Derek Jarman, and other by Michael Craig-Martin, Michael Ginsborg and Mario Dubsky. Extraordinarily Bryan arranged for these last six, very different and leading artists, to show together in Houston in 1976, a potential seminal gathering had it been in the UK but with a somewhat duller impact in Texas.

Private collecting and commissioning sculpture

For many years Montgomery’s collection hung in his company’s offices in Manchester Square and Edinburgh a principal purpose being to stir and stimulate employees by interspersing the pieces amongst the working array of charts, diagrams and personal souvenirs. “If you liked something seen in another office,” recalls a former employee, “you negotiated a swap, a practice encouraged by the proprietor because, he said, it got people talking art”. Bryan enjoyed hearing about the stir the works created, claiming, in hindsight, that this was as a principal purpose for art. He encouraged others to start collecting and was a member and buyer for the Contemporary Art Society for a number of years, and here is no doubt that amongst the 120 or so company employees there were at least a few who began collecting as a result of being around this fluctuating, accessible collection.

In 1990 Bryan decided to dismantle his collection, the majority of which was donated to the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. Hungary, along with many countries under previous Soviet influence was then only beginning to develop an awareness of modern art and a cultural awareness of the West. Bryan was keen to stimulate interest in art wherever he could and he saw Budapest as a more effective setting for his collection. The remaining sets of prints and drawings were donated to the City Gallery in Novosibirsk, Siberia.

Bryan’s keenness to expand and develop cultural ties and include his many business contacts, especially in Eastern Europe and Russia led to further ideas to encourage sculptors. His collection of two dimensional works now dispersed, he embarked upon a long term project to encourage sculpture for outdoors. The tradition of working in the conventional materials of metals, wood and stone were well established in Eastern Europe, but surprisingly not in vogue in sculpture schools in the UK. He established The Montgomery Sculpture Trust with the purpose of encouraging modern sculpture for outdoors, with a secondary purpose of bringing European sculpture traditions together, allowing young sculptors from abroad to stay in the UK, study sculpture collections and make a piece to add the Trust’s collection. Biennial commissions would be interspersed with commissions from artists from the UK and worldwide. The whole project was supported, again like his picture collecting, with modest means. The collection has been used latterly by schools in as study material for art classes and school visits.

The sculpture collection sited in Buckinghamshire, has commissioned works from Hungary, Ukraine, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Russia, Norway, Australia and the UK and includes sculpture by Bryan Kneale, Peter Logan, Joel Perlman and Keith Milow.

Bryan Montgomery neither courted fame nor recognition through his collecting, patronage of individual artists or his enormous range of business interests, yet he remained ambitious for others, often pushing them to experiment and move beyond their own expectations. In the sixties he was certainly known as very fierce and terrifying in business, yet with a generous love of people, often getting on best with those who managed to stand up to him. He remained a daunting presence, the master of the public dressing down, yet always open to new ideas, a very individual, private and committed investor in creativity, in the arts and architecture.

Our Values

Montgomery Worldwide retains the independent values of a family business traced from its origins in 1895. Our reputation for openness and integrity means that we are respected by our industry. The Montgomery family remained involved in the business until 2008 and Bryan Montgomery, as former Chairman, served as President of UFI (the Union of International Fairs) and Chairman of the AEO. His successor Sandy Angus, the current Chairman of Montgomery Worldwide, has also held these positions as well as President of the IAEE.