Arc One Gallery: That little four-letter word - Art Collector

Issue 54, October - December 2010

Gallerists often refer to their gut instinct, that pull that first attracts them to an artist. But as Helen McKenzie finds out, for some it’s more like love at first sight.

It was interesting just how many times a certain four-letter word came up in conversation with Suzanne Hampel and Fran Clark, co-directors of Arc One Gallery in Melbourne. On topics such as the selection of artists to represent and advice on works collectors should buy, the four-letter word was repeatedly and unashamedly used. Hampel and Clark formed Arc One a decade ago together with Emma Kranz (who retired in 2008). They have noticed a growing market and appreciation for Australian contemporary art and insist that that while they may present many fine works, decorative or easy works are not their bag. There is, however, one abiding rule of engagement at their gallery for both staff and clients, and this is where the four-letter word comes in – you have to love the work.

Imants Tillers, Julie Rrap, Robert Owen, Janet Laurence, Cherry Hood and Pat Brassington are some of the well-known artists the gallery represents. More recently three newcomers have been added to the list: Jason Wing; Justine Khamara; and Sam Shmith. Selection of new talent, according to Hampel, is simple: “Predominantly it is like love at first sight. I saw Justine’s work at ACCA [Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne] and was fascinated and excited by it. I thought everything had been done but here’s something new – she is wonderful. But with all of them it is love.”

Clark is quick to elaborate. “We look for very strong rigorous intelligence with the artists; whether they are young or established and across a variety of mediums, all the work is of a high standard – often a museum standard. Their work is not always easy, some is quite challenging. These are people who have something to say that makes people think about their world and it is quite a distinctive language.”

The gallery takes its name from the old warehouse it inhabits. Clark says: “We liked the anonymity of the name and made a conscious decision not to have our names involved in the title. We wanted the gallery to be about the artists and not us. We also liked the implication – let’s arc up, let’s have some really strong art here.”

Hampel and Clark both have a background as practising artists. “Suzie and I think it is quite an important strength,” says Clark. “We have always had artists around us. Not just business administration but careers where we have been involved with artists for a long time.”

Time has allowed Hampel to notice changes not only in what may interest collectors but also changes in the collectors themselves. “One of the exciting things currently happening is that there is a younger generation of collectors coming through. Some of the older traditional, sometimes more conservative collectors are coming to the end of their buying days or have run out of room to hang anything. The younger ones have quite a range in their budget, from fairly modest to quite high.” Clark says you might imagine that “a younger collector may focus on the younger artists but they respond extremely well to someone like Robert Owen who has a 45-year practice.”

Hampel has the last word of advice to collectors of all stages and ages. “Don’t be impetuous, take your time, become familiar with what you are drawn to, but first of all love the work.” •

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