Gallerist: Paul Greenaway - Art Collector

Issue 40 April-June 2007

This March Adelaide’s premier gallerist Paul Greenaway celebrated his 15th year of operation from the famous Rundle street address. Having launched his own adult life as an artist, Greenaway’s approach to representing his artists is particularly empathic: he is one of very few Australian gallerists who, as a matter of policy, offers a form of droit de suite. He corresponded by email with Australian Art Collector for this interview. Photography by Denys Finney.

Australian Art Collector: What changes have you noticed in the art market over the last few years?
Paul Greenaway: We now have a more art literate group of collectors in Australia willing to commit to artists from their own region, country and internationally. As the supply of good historic works has dried up, auction houses and serious collectors now focus more on contemporary art.

AAC: How did you select which artists to represent?
PG: When the gallery first commenced I wanted a balance between the best from within the state, interstate artists who hadn’t shown before in this state, and right from the beginning some international artists. Whilst this remains the make up, the proportion has now changed and will continue to do so in the future. We have just restructured the line-up of artists and will increase the proportion of international artists to 33 per cent of all those represented by 2008. While many artists approach the gallery weekly, and there have been occasions when we have taken on someone that has approached us, most artists I have approached directly or through their representative. Apart from an obvious passion for their work, I need to feel confident that a good working relationship is possible, one that will maintain mutual enthusiasm and excitement for their careers.

AAC: How do you manage your client list in relation to a new show? Who gets priority access and why?
PG: We keep a record of all those who have shown an interest in a particular artist and the date they expressed that interest, and when a new body of work comes in we notify them in the same order.

AAC: What makes a great gallerist? Who do you admire?
PG: The passion for art as expressed by Ray Hughes, the hut spar to work on an international stage as shown by Roslyn Oxley, the sensitive commitment to their artists as demonstrated by Darren Knight, the strategic planning of a stable as can be seen at Tolarno Galleries with Jan Minchin, the loyalty generated in clients who worked with Ann Lewis when she had her Sydney gallery, and the moral fortitude and ethical dealings as practiced by Frank Watters. Outside Australia I have a small list of names who are the counterparts of the aforementioned.

AAC: What for you is the distinction between a dealer and a gallerist?
PG: For me, a dealer’s primary function is trading, i.e. buying and selling of a commodity, in this case both the primary and secondary art market. A gallerist has three primary functions. He or she acts as curator for the private institution (as opposed to a public gallery), acts in the best interests of the artists that he or she represents, and thirdly advises and works with collectors or collections.

AAC: Your artists at auction: Have you had any artists whose work has done very well at auction? Was it a problem for his or her primary market when that happened?
PG: Rosalie Gascoigne, Garry Shead, Imants Tillers, Jenny Watson, Noel McKenna, Deborah Paauwe, and many more, have all done well at auction. However, the results have little, if any, bearing on primary sales. My advice to collectors is consistent – do your homework and contact the primary representative for the artist you are interested in. Generally they will have a broader selection of works available and often the price will be better than the one you pay at auction.

AAC: Have you had any artists do very badly at auction? Was it a problem for that artist’s primary market? Would you consider protecting one of your artist’s markets by buying at auction?
PG: I don’t believe it’s a good principle to manipulate markets in any way and we have not bought from auction to protect our artists primary market.

AAC: Some gallerists insist their collectors sign resale agreements before they allow them to purchase works. The resale agreements specify that if for any reason the collector decides to sell the work, they be given first option on taking it on consignment. Would you consider introducing resale agreements?
PG: We have asked clients to sign resale agreements in the past, not to ensure that we have first dibs on a subsequent sale, but to ensure the artist receives a percentage of any subsequent sales as a form of droit de suite.

AAC: Do you give your artists a commission on secondary sales?
PG: It has been Greenaway Art Gallery’s policy for 15 years to give artists a percentage of any resale.

AAC: What are your feelings about collectors selling contemporary work?
PG: As individuals we are all evolving and sometimes our tastes change and the need may come to sell a piece of art. Financial circumstances and personal circumstances can also initiate the sale of a work. These things are understandable. Pure speculation and short-term turnovers don’t impress me.

AAC: How do you think about art and investment?
PG: It would be churlish to bury my head in the sand and not acknowledge that for many collectors they want a win/win situation. The first win is that the fall in love with a work, the second that it vindicates their aesthetic decision making by increasing in value.

AAC: What is it you really like about being a gallerist?
PG: It’s like Christmas every time a new body of work comes into the gallery; it’s an absolute joy to walk into museums in Spain and know that the works by Australian artists wouldn’t be on the walls if I hadn’t been committed for a long period to promoting Australian art in that country; I am sometimes as thrilled as the artist when one of them wins a major award or is acknowledged in some form; it’s gratifying to hear a collector come in and remind you of a work they bought many years earlier and tell you that they still love it.

AAC: Do you sit on any art related boards, trusts or foundations? If so, which ones and why?
PG: For many years I remained on at least six to eight boards at any one time. In the last six months I have resigned from all but the following two: Founding Chair of the annual SALA Festival (South Australian Living Artists Festival) and PART (Public Art Roundtable for the Adelaide City Council).

AAC: What weight do you place upon the opinions of critics and/or media coverage on artists?
PG: To paraphrase Leonardo Da Vinci: in the course of time, geniuses are seen as frauds and outsiders are heralded for their genius. While intelligent writing on art and artists can be enormously beneficial to an artist’s career, it is often only the squeaky door that gets the oil.

AAC: Do you market your artists internationally?
PG: We have full-page advertising contracts and listings with international magazines. We lobby to have our artists curated into international museum exhibitions and suggest themes and writers for possible articles.

AAC: What do you think makes a great collection?
PG: Some of the best collections I have seen demonstrate clearly an independent eye, less concerned with fashion, taste and the cost of an artwork and more concerned with reflecting the particular qualities that are being sought. A collector in Spain in 1992 bought an Ian Abdulla painting from me, Ian at that point was very little known. When the following year I went to the collector’s home it hung alongside a Jean Dubuffet, and he said in passing “I like the genuine or the genius, but nothing in between.”

AAC: Why do you think people should collect art?
PG: I don’t necessarily believe every person in the world should collect art, but I do believe we all need something to feed our mind and soul. For some it may be music, for others literature, and for many of us art.

AAC: What responsibilities does a collector have to the artist, to the gallerist, to the art world, to the community?
PG: “We do but pass though this life but once…” (I can’t remember the full quote or who it is by), implies that we are only custodians of objects for such a relatively short amount of time, and at the risk of sounding naïve, most of us will want to leave the world in a better state than we found it and help others along the way. Lending works to museums, maintaining artworks in perfect condition, and the ultimate act of generosity – bequeathing the work to a public gallery - are all worthy goals to aspire to.

AAC: What responsibilities does a gallerist have to the artist, the collector, to the wider community? Do you ever offer artists retainers to live on while they are producing exhibitions?
PG: A gallerist has a responsibility to communicate the artist’s intent without embellishment. The gallerist acts as an educator to collectors and the wider community and at times to younger artists by instilling a higher level of professionalism. As a long time member of National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) and ArtsLaw the responsibilities of a gallery towards its artists have been discussed at length. Greenaway Art Gallery aims at best possible practice. The relationship between one artist and the gallery and another is always different. Some ask and need advice and feedback more often than others, some on occasion will need financial assistance or advice with grant applications, commissions, or strategic career moves. When deciding to form a relationship with an artist you not only have to be passionate about their work but know that the two of you can communicate easily and clearly.

AAC: If a new collector walked into your gallery, what are the chances of him or her walking out with a high quality work by one of your artists? Do you save the best works for people who have been loyal to the gallery?
PG: If there is a work for sale or in our stockroom that is for sale then anyone should have the right to purchase. As long time collectors are generally offered the works before an exhibition, they have had the opportunity already to purchase. I think new collectors would find it ultimately more rewarding if they do their homework; inform yourself; read widely; visit exhibitions; ask other collectors; talk to artists, then don’t be burnt by that initial flurry of enthusiasm where in the end you look back and realise you have bought somewhat indiscriminately.

AAC: What makes a bad client?
PG: I think certain galleries appeal to particular people, fortunately Greenaway Art Gallery seems to attract genuine and enthusiastic collectors, evidenced by the fact that very few works come onto the secondary market that have been purchased through Greenaway Art Gallery.

AAC: What qualities do an artist and his/her work have to have for you to believe that they will make it in the long term?
PG: While technique, research, promotion, and chance are all important, nothing beats hard work, experimentation, fun, and the ability to challenge themselves in the studio. Being themselves and being truthful to that must come before the aforementioned list that implies professionalism.

AAC: What do you think of art advisers?
PG: It’s a big world, and there are times and places for all people.

AAC: What sorts of reasons might convince you to let an artist go from your stable?
PG: A prolonged period of miscommunications, and a long-term disenchantment with their work are the two principle issues.

AAC: Do you have any plan to take on new artists?
PG: The gallery has recently re-structured and the next six artists who will come on board will all be international.

AAC: How do you feel about your clients meeting your artists? Do you think it is a valuable experience for the client? Do you ever arrange it?
PG: As all our artists attend their openings it is a great opportunity to then introduce them to clients who have either purchased their work in the past or expressed an interest in the artists work. Apart from this occasion, most artists would prefer that the gallery deal directly with the client so that they can concentrate on their studio practice.

AAC: What makes your gallery so successful?
PG: It is for artists and collectors to decide the success or otherwise of the gallery, and the reality is, is that the memory of most galleries rarely lives beyond a single generation. If we have been successful in any way, then that success is due more to the quality of the artists that we exhibit than to anything the gallery may do.

AAC: What have you learned about artists and clients in the last 15 years of dealing?
PG: Never judge a book by its cover and treat everyone equally.

AAC: What do you think of the art world, its properties and its people?
PG: The microcosm that is the art world is merely a reflection of the society in which we live in which there are things to celebrate and things to lament.

AAC: Would you ever approach an artist currently exhibiting with another gallery?
PG: Our situation is slightly unique in the Australian art scene as Adelaide is regarded by some as a regional centre and the normal vying for artists that might occur in Sydney and Melbourne doesn’t exist in Adelaide. I have approached artists showing with other galleries, but those galleries are interstate and generally supportive of their artists having representation in other states.

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