The Reeds collected a broad range of art from figurative to abstract, expressionist to realist. Initially they acquired works by leading artists of the modernist movement in Australia, such as Sam Atyeo, Adrian Lawlor and Moya Dyring but later began collecting artists as diverse in practice as Yosl Bergner, Charles Blackman, Arthur Boyd, Mike Brown, Noel Counihan, Joy Hester, Elwyn Lynn, Sidney Nolan, John Perceval, Edwin Tanner, Albert Tucker, Danila Vassilieff and Fred Williams, many of whom they counted as friends. The work of several of these artists featured in Angry Penguins, a journal John Reed co-published in the 1940s; many were associated with the local development of social realism and surrealism, and reflect the Reeds’ involvement in the Contemporary Art Society, the Gallery of Contemporary Art and its successor the Museum of Modern Art and Design of Australia in the 1950s and 1960s.
During the 1970s the Reeds began to collect the work of a younger generation of artists, contemporaries of their adopted son Sweeney Reed. These included the artists Sweeney exhibited at his two galleries—Strines (1966–1969) and Sweeney Reed Gallery (1972–1975), such as Les Kossatz, Col Jordan, Sydney Ball and John Krzywokulski. Sweeney Reed’s own text-based work is well represented in the Heide Collection, and additional visual and concrete poetry works entered the Collection through individual donations and the bequest of the Reeds’ close friend Barrett Reid.
The Heide Collection has since expanded through many individual gifts as well and four significant collections—the Museum of Modern Art and Design Collection, the Baillieu Myer Collection of the 80s, the Barrett Reid Collection, which included works Reid originally received from John and Sunday Reed, and most recently, the Albert Tucker Gift donated by Barbara Tucker. Through such gifts, the Collection now includes works by leading contemporary artists such as Gordon Bennett, Peter Booth, Juan Davila, Patricia Piccinini, Robert Rooney and Imants Tillers, and outdoor sculptures by Rick Amor, Antony Caro and Anish Kapoor. Heide has one of the largest Australian collections of outdoor sculpture, sited within its beautiful gardens. Other works central to this collection are sculptures by Dennis Oppenheim and Inge King.
Heide also holds an extensive support collection of artefacts, ephemera and archives relating to the history of Heide as the domestic residence of John and Sunday Reed and as a public institution, and to the artists and art works represented in the Collection, for example Mike Brown, Albert Tucker and Danila Vassilieff.
Heide’s current collecting priorities are to expand the representation of living Australian artists, in the spirit of the Reeds’ support of the latest advances in contemporary art; to fill gaps in the representation of modernist art history, particularly as practised in Melbourne; and to commission new works for the sculpture park.