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Interview with Lorraine Tarabay: The Queen of Arts

  • 7 min read

Interview with Lorraine Tarabay: The Queen of Arts



Upon briefly mentioning to family and friends of my upcoming interview with Lorraine Tarabay, I was inundated with familiar comments - ‘talk about her art collection’, ‘what about her philanthropic work’ – and yes, I will get to those. But I know Lorraine. I know Lorraine well. I’m lucky enough to call her a friend. A quick Google search will allow those to familiarise themselves with her charitable endeavours and impressive contemporary art collection, but I remain far more intrigued by the mystery surrounding Lorraine Tarabay, the person

I vividly recall meeting Lorraine some 4 years ago at an event for which she now serves as a member of the Advisory Board of Global Women Leaders, Strategic Philanthropy – I  remember watching in awe as a petite, long-haired brunette, dressed in a fitted black dress, so eloquently explained the ethos of the humanitarian organisation to a young group of adoring women. I immediately sensed the profound impact Tarabay has on people – me included.


Fast-forward 4 years of friendship, one I hold closely to my heart, to the first Tuesday in November – Melbourne Cup. I sheepishly message Lorraine suggesting we meet at a local café around lunchtime to conduct this interview. To my surprise, she accepts – for Tarabay is anything but conventional, as she clarifies, “I turn down Melbourne Cup events and secretly do nothing, it’s a fantastic day to myself… that is my big secret”. Some secret but I know I can do better. 


As we sit down to eat, I inadvertently look Tarabay up-and-down, hoping she won’t notice, admiring her style from head-to-toe. Conversation immediately turns to our mutual love of current affairs, the arts, family and philanthropy. I enquire about Lorraine’s family, specifically the upcoming travel schedule of her husband Nick Langley (the co-founder of investment management company RARE Infrastructure). She explains that he is in America on business - a country which played a large part in their own relationship – the pair met in Sydney where Langley worked for Tarabay during her days as an investment banker.  He followed her to New York City and, as they say, the rest is history. I enjoy my own relationship with Nick – he is a hard-working, family-man who is firmly in Tarabay’s corner. Nick and I concur that he is the man behind the woman – Mr. Tarabay, as I refer to him.


Our conversation is light-hearted but intelligent. It’s a refreshing reprieve from the banality rife within Sydney’s eastern suburbs. We briefly pause the interview for Tarabay to deliberate over photos for an upcoming feature of her prized Sydney home in the December Issue of Vogue Living. For me, her home is another clue in deciphering Lorraine Tarabay the person – unafraid of boundaries and unapologetically unique. The curation and collection of art throughout the home has been carefully considered and is nothing short of remarkable – perhaps unsurprising given her multi-faceted role with the MCA, as well as the Venice Biennale and Tate Museum.*  [For those interested, you can read more about the collection of Nick Langley and Lorraine Tarabay  here].


As the afternoon nears closer to school pick-up time, we are briefly interrupted by phone calls from Tarabay’s family, including her mum and her two children. Tarabay is the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, something she speaks proudly and fondly of. I ask about her own childhood and am surprised to learn that she is the eldest of 5 children spanning an age gap of 15 years – why didn’t I already know this? For a woman who regularly makes public appearances, Tarabay rationalises, “I’m actually very quiet and private”. Then suddenly I realise, herein lies the very essence of Lorraine Tarabay: she is strong-willed but softly spoken; small in stature with an almighty big heart; fiercely independent but beautifully vulnerable; opinionated but the eternal diplomat; forthright but often reserved; publicly adored but intensely private. The dichotomy of Lorraine Tarabay is fascinating.


The bill arrives. Our time is up. I ask Tarabay where she sees herself 10 years from now. She asserts that when her philanthropic journey is over she will, “happily pass the baton on to the next generation”, swapping the glamorous life for a somewhat quieter existence. Perhaps the French-speaking, Francophile will retreat to the south of France or to an island in the Caribbean (Tarabay has family there). We say goodbye to one another knowing our next encounter won’t be too far in the distant future. For someone who doesn’t let many people in, I leave feeling more in than ever. I smile, I’ve worked her out – or so I think.


Diplomat. Art collector. Humanitarian. Lorraine Tarabay is the Queen of Arts.


*(Lorraine Tarabay serves as Deputy Chair of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia; Chair of the Museum’s Director’s Circle, a member of the Museum’s Foundation Council and a member of the Board’s Finance Committee, a member of the Venice Council for Australia’s representation at the Venice Biennale, a member of the Tate Museum (UK) International Council).

© Francois Dischinger


 Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your history in your own words?


I’m a mother of two children, a wife and a former mergers and acquisitions investment banker in Sydney and New York. Icurrently hold board positions on various not-for-profits including Deputy Board Chair of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Global Women Leaders – Strategic Philanthropy (advocating for global humanitarian issues), Kincoppal - Rose Bay School and Studio A. I am also a member of the Tate Museum (London) International Council, the Venice Council for Australia's representation at the Venice Art Biennale and a member of Sydney Dance Company's Dancers' Circle. I’m passionate about the arts, design, fashion and humanitarian causes.


What is the best advice you can give to an art collector who is just starting out?


Never be too intimidated to ask lots of questions and to simply turn up to any arts events, exhibitions and openings. People already involved in the art world love sharing their passion with new collectors who want to learn. It’s such an open and inviting community. Don’t buy too many pieces early on as your tastes will develop and the more art you see, the more your eye will refine. There’s nothing more exciting than seeing a collection that reflects someone’s unique, personal tastes. 


Can you describe what your role at the MCA entails?


I am a custodian for what is now the world’s most visited contemporary art museum. Together with other board members, I act as an ambassador globally for the museum, ensuring it is living out its mission tocelebrate the work of living artists, bringing exceptional exhibitions of international and Australian art to as many people as possible – in the belief that art is for everyone. It also entails ensuring good governance, financial stability, setting of strategic direction and ensuring accessibility to all for the general public good.   


As a mother of two, what are your experiences on balancing motherhood, philanthropy and your own interests and ventures?


My first passion is my family. I try to work my schedule around being able to do school drop-offs and pick ups on most days. I often continue to work post these hours at home but it’s nice for the kids to feel my presence. Importantly, I try and involve our children in all of my philanthropic endeavours in that we make decisions as a family as to what we will support, not only financially, but with my time. I give of my time on behalf of my family so any not-for-profit board commitments are done with their support.

Do you have a design principle you are guided by?


I like to look at a space holistically. Some people just care about the art and not the design or architecture but for me it’s the whole space. I think it’s disrespectful to the art not to have great design and it’s disrespectful to the design not to have great art or architecture. I also like to ensure I collect unique pieces for each space which adds that individuality and the interest it brings.


Can you tell us about how you became involved with the Tate Museum in London?


From time to time, the Tate invites a small number of individuals globally to join the Tate International Council. I was honoured to be asked to Tate’s International Council in 2018. The Tate International Council brings together individuals who have demonstrated a serious commitment to the visual arts in their home countries and internationally, as well as to philanthropy, support for local and emerging artists, arts foundations, galleries and museums.


What’s your favourite place in the world for finding design and art inspiration?


I’m a tragic Francophile so Paris would have to be my favourite. Parisians have never been afraid to exert an absolute uniqueness in their sense of style. They aren’t afraid of being bold or brave with respect to their design aesthetic, art and fashion. This is why many famous artists and designers historically found themselves living in Paris – it’s where a number of important art and design movements were founded.


What is your favourite room in your home and why?


I would have to say our more formal living area which I have dubbed our ‘Salon’, the French term used for a room where socialising and good conversation is had. It was designed for exactly that and includes many interesting talking pieces in the room itself from artwork and sculpture to designer furniture collectibles and vintage pieces.   


What would your top product pick at Palmer & Penn be?


I like to make an occasion of meals shared even when it’s our own small family dining together. Setting a formal dining table from time to time brings me much pleasure. On such occasions I would typically use our Ralph Lauren Audrey dinnerware, Aerin ceramic flowers placed on top of napkins in lieu of napkin holders, Baccarat Mille Nuits votives in clear colour combined with Baccarat Eye votives in blue, Baccarat Harcourt 1841 candlesticks and a couple of my Aerin Clover vases filled with flowers in different sizes. All from Palmer & Penn.  

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