Dominik Mersch Gallery: The Internationalist - Art Collector

Issue 48, April - June 2009

Sydney gallerist Dominik Mersch is accustomed to vaulting the hurdles of distance. With half a stable based in Europe, long distance phone calls and hefty international freight bills are par for the course, reports Prue Gibson.

Lanky, elegant and urbane, German-born gallerist Dominik Mersch has established himself as an arbiter of taste in Sydney. His gallery in the Danks Street complex in Waterloo has attracted attention for its balanced representation of both local and international art.

With a background as an engineer and management consultant in Germany, he has applied fresh skills to the art scene. After study in Munich, then life in London for three years, Mersch suffered a serious illness that precipitated his decision to follow his true passion – art. After analysing the Australian art market, he decided to move to Sydney and open a gallery, and in April 2006 he launched Thirtyseven-degrees, bringing a coterie of European artists with him. The move proved a great opportunity for the budding gallerist, as he would not have been able to represent such established artists back in London.

When Sherman Galleries underwent its transformation from a commercial gallery into a foundation, he invited Marion Borgelt and Philip Wolfhagen to join the stable. They now contribute to a 50/50 balance of Australian and European artists at the gallery.
European artists include Beat Zoderer, Stefan Thiel and Berit Myrebøe, all of whom have serious careers in Europe. A recent exhibition of Clemens Krauss, an Austrian, was a sell-out success. This year also promises a major show by photographer Elger Esser, an artist of world class standing who was featured in last year’s Guggenheim Collection exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.

Mersch prefers to have no more than 20 artists in his stable but offers a project space for guest artists.

Now known as Dominik Mersch Gallery, the space has recently been renovated to twice its original size. The expansion has allowed Mersch the physical and intellectual space to show artists more regularly and to pursue his pet project, the Dominik Mersch Award. Developed in collaboration with the Sydney College of the Arts, the award gives emerging artists the rare opportunity to show in a commercial gallery space.

The inaugural award saw Mersch, together with the dean of SCA, Colin Rhodes, select two artists from the college’s November 2008 postgraduate show and the work – a series of grainy night photographs by Tom Jefferson and a video work from Andrew Newman – was shown at the gallery in March. Mersch believes this kind of exposure is more beneficial for emerging artists than a straight cash advance and he intends to run the award annually.

For Mersch, it has been important to connect his European artists with Sydney. His visiting artists lecture at universities, such as SCA, and engage with local contemporary art. For instance, Berit Myrebøe has now completed two studio residencies in Sydney, one at Artspace in Woolloomooloo. She took many photographs of Tamarama Beach, which have informed her current paintings on aluminium. Clemens Krauss also received a residency at Artspace and Stefan Thiel won a COFA residency.

Another of Mersch’s artists, Sydneysider Joseph Marr now lives in Germany. Even though the freight costs for transporting works between Europe and Australia must give Mersch nosebleeds at times, he is clearly accustomed to vaulting the hurdles of distance.

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