Block Projects: Building Blocks - Art Collector

Issue 45, July - September 2008

Block Projects, the latest Melbourne artist run space, kicked off at its new Flinders Lane address with two sell-out shows reports Ashley Crawford.

Not so long ago Uplands, a semi-artist run space, were the new ‘Young Turks’ on the Melbourne scene and Neon Parc came along soon after. Both of those galleries have gone on to substantial successes. Both started out with a team that combined entrepreneurs and artists. The same pattern has emerged with the latest combo, Steven Asquith, Jeremy Kibel and Jasmine Nguyen at Block Projects.

Block Projects started in a seriously humble space in Melbourne’s Block Arcade. Little more than a renovated closet, the gallery held powerful shows of works by Alicia Frankovich and Giles Ryder and a stunning exhibition of Joseph Beuys multiples. Their openings became legendary, a place where young wannabees would rub shoulders – literally – with judges and lawyers – at crowded rooftop openings.

This initial incarnation of Block was brief. In 2007 Jan Minchin, Director of the prestigious Tolarno Galleries, had decided to move from her large space in Flinders Lane to an even larger space in Exhibition Street. A conversation between Minchin and artist Jeremy Kibel of Block Projects, resulted in Minchin offering Kibel her old Flinders Lane rental space, charging nothing for the fit-out: a clear act of generosity on Minchin’s part.

Unlike many essentially artist run spaces, Block, in its new location, managed to break even in the space of two exhibitions. Its first, New Zealand artist Richard Lewer, was acquired by a single collector. Its second, Melbourne stalwart artist Peter Walsh, with a stunning show, sold six out of seven paintings as of the time of publication.

This was followed by an exhibition of works by Sydney-based Matthys Gerber and group shows including the curated exhibition Drawing featuring such up and coming artists as Daniel Price, Brie Trenerry, Jackson Slattery and Lauren Cross. Another planned exhibition is Future Primitives, which will feature installation artists such as Simon Pericich.

Pericich is one of the hot tickets in the Melbourne scene. Currently occupying a studio at Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Pericich, with his hulking black installations, has been included in a number of strong group shows over the last year and has attracted the attention of collectors and curators alike.

Kibel says that he first spoke with friend and artist Steven Asquith about the idea of a gallery at least five years ago. Asquith was, at the time, working at the famous Gagosian Gallery in London, but when he decided to return to Australia the duo met up once again and joined forces with their business manager Jasmine Nguyen.
Then Jan Minchin told the Block team of her plans to move. “She offered us the space, she didn’t even charge for the fittings. She became a kind of mentor,” says Kibel.

The team say they want the space to be a serious business while retaining a hint of anarchy. “A serious space with a liberal, open curatorial program – ageless, not just the young kids or a specific hard core style. So far the stable ranges from the emerging – Simon Pericich – through to the more established – Peter Walsh and Matthys Gerber.

“We want it to have a ‘now’ attitude – professional meets grunge,” says Kibel. “Essentially it will steer itself but it will maintain a business sensibility.” With two sell-out shows Kibel claims that the costs of renovating the space will be covered within two months.
In an unusual but laudable move, Block Projects will also run a philanthropic arm. The gallery has already organized a shipment of art materials to be sent to schools in the Philippines. “That will be an ongoing project-based element,” says Kibel. “We like the idea of money from the upper echelons of society filtering down. It’s good karma.”

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