Beaver Galleries: Drawing the threads together - Art Collector

Issue 63, January - March 2013

Canberra’s Beaver Galleries represents artists working in a wide array of mediums. Maurice O’Riordan talks to the husband-and-wife team of Martin and Susie Beaver about how they corral these disparate elements.

Martin Beaver and Susie Beaver with Poise, a glasswork by Benjamin Edols and Kathy Elliott, in the background. Photograph by Vikky Wilkes

Beaver Galleries is somewhat of a Canberra institution. Begun in 1974 by the parents, Betty and Ron Beaver, of current co- director Martin Beaver, it could seem an unlikely success. As Martin explains, most of the art viewing in Canberra is done in look-but-don’t-buy public gallery spaces. Together with wife Susie Beaver, the challenge is then to cultivate an informed and accessible visual art experience – for aesthetic, intellectual and emotional pleasure and engagement, and for private and corporate acquisition.

The current gallery space was purpose-built in the 1980s in the upmarket Canberra suburb of Deakin, a 10-minute drive from Canberra’s CBD. The gallery exudes a sense of 1980s Australian Capital Territory affluence and domestic grandeur with its own internal courtyard-cum-sculpture garden, four sizeable gallery spaces, a gallery shop and the adjoining Palette Café. Martin and Susie returned from Europe and decided to buy the family business in 1991, bringing backgrounds in law and economics as well as arts administration to the fold. The plan was to significantly expand on the gallery’s initial focus on three-dimensional work. The gallery’s broad church of visual arts now includes a range of three- and two-dimensional mediums, representing established, mid-career and emerging artists local and Australia-wide.

What is the secret to your longevity? After almost 40 years in a town notoriously difficult for commercial art gallery endurance, how have you been able to keep defying the odds?

Martin Beaver: I think it works because of the quality of the artists that we represent and because this is all we do. It’s not like I’m running another business while Susie manages the gallery. We’re both working hard at it, there’s no fallback income stream and we have good staff. Having the gallery shop and café also helps to bring people in who might not normally visit galleries (but we don’t actually run the café, that’d be too much).
I think people like coming in, and coming back, because they appreciate the different approaches to visual art that we show, whether through glass, jewellery, painting, printmaking [or] sculpture, for example. We’re less narrow in our approach, which reflects our own aesthetic.

Susie Beaver: Our diversity is our real strength, in being able to maintain quality while showing a diverse range of artists and their work.

How does being in Canberra shape the gallery?

MB: There’s the initial challenge in some cases of leading the viewer away from the expectation to only look and not buy, as is customary with Canberra’s public museums and government-funded galleries. We make the most of our connection to Canberra as a place of cultural institutions, as another cultural attraction. Interstate visitors are important so we try to get involved with Canberra marketing initiatives such as Canberra Arts Marketing, when it existed, and we’re currently part of a network of related small businesses called Poacher’s Way.

SB: You also don’t know how well you’re doing until you get out of your environment. We’ve had a longstanding association with the Melbourne Art Fair and with Chicago’s annual Sculpture Objects & Functional Art Fair, where we’ve shown leading Australian glass and ceramic artists. These fairs are really important in growing our client base. We’re also considering one of the Asian art fairs.

How do you go about taking on new artists?

SB: You’ve got to show new artists, especially in a small city like Canberra, to maintain diversity for a relatively small but cosmopolitan client base. Our online presence also helps to grow the number of interstate clients. We’ve always got a pile of artist portfolios to look through. We’re careful not to duplicate, to choose new artists whose work is distinct from other artists’ work we show. Some of our artists have been showing with us for more than 10 years.

MB: You can never not look at new work – you’ve got to have your radar on the whole time.

Share this page: