Anna Pappas: The Busiest Bee - Art Collector

Issue 68, April - June 2014

Anna Pappas is one of the most industrious dealers around. As if running her own gallery, Anna Pappas Gallery in Melbourne, was not enough she also holds two other demanding art world roles. She talks to Helen McKenzie about her strategy for the gallery in the face of these competing demands for her time.

Anna Pappas. Portrait by Janelle Low.

As chair of the Melbourne Art Foundation, which runs the Melbourne Art Fair, and head of the Australian Commercial Galleries Association in addition to running your own gallery, your schedule is packed. How do you manage?
I don’t know how I fit everything in but they are all interconnected. The Australian Commercial Galleries Association has a lot to do with the Melbourne Art Foundation because it was started by the ACGA. We have six members of the ACGA on the MAF board. Yes, they are linked but nevertheless the load is huge.

What is your gallery model?
For the past seven years I start each year with a group show. This year we had 13 artists, we don’t represent half of them but they are artists who I have my eye on. If we work well together and have a good relationship, I will give them a show and eventually offer to represent them. It is not the only model but it is a good one. Sometimes I am approached directly by artists but mostly I go out looking. I look, they don’t find me; I find them.

Do you offer traditional representation to the artists you take on?
I have a contract that they sign on for a long-term marriage, not a specific time frame but it is a contract with Anna Pappas Gallery which means that we will be working together for the long term; they have certain responsibilities to the gallery and I have certain responsibilities to the artist. I have to offer them a show at least once every two years, try to take them overseas to various art fairs, promote them and produce group shows to feature the younger artists.

Do you look for international appeal in the artists you take on?
No, because I am not sure what that means. I believe that art relates locally, it is like food. You can have Peking duck anywhere in the world but a Peking duck in Beijing is different, that is the organic part of it. Even Melbourne to Sydney art is different because they are two very different cities. We have put on shows here by Sydney artists and no one will turn up because we [Melbournians] can’t actually relate to the themes and vice versa. I was talking to a gallerist in Singapore about organising an artist exchange and she said that all the Australian art sold in Singapore has been bought by expats. That’s a fact. I have never seen a queue of Singaporeans or Asians wanting to buy emerging contemporary Australian art. We possibly could do much better in the United States and the United Kingdom because our roots are historically closer.

Do you intend to participate in international art fairs?
I have been to [Art Stage] Singapore, [Art Basel] Hong Kong, [Next Art Fair] Chicago and Art-Athina in Athens. I am not going to [Art Basel] Hong Kong this year. I am not sure what they are trying to do – what is the fair’s personality? Is it European galleries selling to Asians, is it Asian galleries selling to Europeans? [Art Stage] Singapore this year was so expensive you would have to sell over $100,000 if not more to cover your expenses. I am going again this May to Art-Athina. It’s a very old art show. It is a very big connection, me being an Athenian – I understand the collectors, I understand the place and how it operates. There is also a huge connection as a result of the migration between Greece and Australia.

How do the local fairs stack up?
I think there is a lot of talent [at the Auckland Art Fair] in New Zealand, very good artists; bit like their food, they make a difference. Sydney [Contemporary] has an amazing and beautiful building and is attempting to make its mark as a new art fair that is an international destination. Melbourne [Art Fair] should be proud of its Royal Exhibition Building too. There are changes taking place this year with project spaces upstairs and the big galleries downstairs. It will be totally different but we want to maintain the integrity of this art fair because it has been going on so long. 2013 was a difficult year for everybody in the arts industry; I think 2014 will be better, absolutely.

Helen McKenzie

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