Conny Dietzschold: Bridging a cultural divide - Art Collector

Issue 24 April-June 2003

Conny Dietzschold has been running her gallery out of Cologne, Europe’s epicentre of contemporary art, since 1989. In December 2000 she fulfilled a long held dream by emigrating to Australia. She now oversees a unique transcontinental operation, running two galleries in Sydney and mounting regular shows in Cologne. Michael Hutak spoke to Dietzschold and new stable member, ex-pat photo-artist Stephen Roach, at her galleries in the Danks Street complex in Sydney’s burgeoning SOCS (South of Cleveland Street) art precinct.

CONNY DIETZSCHOLD: I lived here in the 1970s, and in Cologne I always worked very closely with the Australian embassy. My love for Australia, my yearning to come back – and it was a yearning, I drove everyone mad with it – was my navel-cord to Australia. My concept is to only show Australian artists in Cologne, and bring my international artists to Australia. That’s how it works. I set the Australian artists in dialogue with the international artists. You can see this in my other Sydney space, Multiple Box, where I have big names like Beuys and Koons next to completely unknown Australian artists. Here I just show editions of prints and photography, and multiples of objects. In Cologne I have been showing now for 13 years concrete art, abstract art in painting, sculpture, new media anything. This is where my heart is; it’s where I know the artworld best. This is my niche. I like to bring people together. I’m a very good networker and I like it when the artists and clients can meet and get to know each other. Most collectors here collect very locally and they’re still in a learning process. Many are often not confident, and are even too shy to talk to the artist whose work they are buying. So I try to get them together, so they can relate to each other. I have to like the art that I show and I never make a decision to take on an artist only on a commercial basis. I could never sell a work that I didn’t like. I also have to click with the artist, because the art game is complicated enough as it is. We have to be a team, and that means not just one party working. Relationships last if the artist gets involved as well. If he just leaves it all up to the gallery he cuts himself off. With Stephen, for instance, this isn’t a problem – he’s always sending me emails and the like. (laughs) The Australian art scene is one of a kind. It’s not highly connected internationally except for two or three people, and then mainly with Aboriginal artists. I’ve only been here two years, but I often wonder if collectors here have a strategy, a coherent program. I have sold a lot of work to New Zealand, and I find the sophistication of the art scene there very high. Not only do they collect internationally, they have international collections of great quality and they take care with the work – with climate controlled rooms and special archival drawers and cabinets. Australian collectors, they usually have everything they own up on the wall. When I came here I did not realise how some things work. But now I understand why galleries are so cautious with each other, because of the poaching aspect, and this is unbelievable. To some degree, I was told not to come to the openings, that gallerists don’t go to each other’s openings here – I thought I didn’t hear right. I said well, excuse me, I’m making a point to understand the art of the city where I am living, and I will continue to do this and I don’t care what people think about that.

STEPHEN ROACH: And I’m very pleased to be showing in Australia again with Conny. I haven’t lived here for 23 years, but I have family here, and I want to remain connected to Australia. I show regularly in Cologne, Milan and Tokyo, but it’s logistically very difficult to come here and mount a show, just as it is for resident Australian artists to take their work to the international stage. I think it’s a brave and wonderful thing Conny is doing for Australian artists both here and in Europe. CD: I have also already attracted a lot of people from over there to come here. Next year Gallery Schroeder in Cologne is going to have a show here at my gallery. To be honest I’ve only been here two years, and I still don’t know what sells in Australia. But the gallery’s been running only one year and I’ve experimented with a lot of group shows to see what people respond to. To my surprise it was a lot of abstract, concrete, minimalist work, so I’m finding a market here for the work I know. It is very hard in Australia to introduce an artist. I am new here. My whole concept is new. The art I’m showing is very new and I realise people have to build a trust in me that whatever I show it has background, depth, consistency and substance. It takes time.

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