The Global Couch 2018 - Art Collector

In issue 86 of Art Collector, we interviewed key international players about where Australian and New Zealand art is at on the world stage. Read the full interview transcript below.

INTERVIEWEES:

Alexie Glass-Kantor: Executive Director, Artspace Sydney and curator, Art Basel Hong Kong

Barry Keldoulis: Director, Sydney Contemporary

Brook Andrew: Artist and Artistic Director of the 22nd Biennale of Sydney

Natalie King: Curator for the Australian Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale

Rachel Kent: Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

Rhana Devenport: Director, Art Gallery of South Australia and former Director, Auckland Art Gallery

Roslyn Oxley: Director, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

Tim Olsen: Director, Olsen Gallery, Sydney and Olsen Gruin, New York

Joanna Strumpf and Ursula Sullivan: Co-Directors, Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney and Singapore


MODERATOR:

Camilla Wagstaff, Editor, Art Collector

TRANSCRIPT

What’s the general perception of Australian contemporary art on the world stage? How highly valued are Australian artists internationally?

Alexie Glass-Kantor

Australia is generally regarded as punching above its weight in terms of momentum and capacity to produce opportunities for representation of Australian artists internationally, and for international artists to be seen back in Australia. For a population of 23 million people, by ratio we’re actually getting a lot of visibility for our cultural production in international contexts.

Increasingly, Australian art is perceived internationally to be more ambitious and open ended. We’re also seeing artists being a lot more self-motivated to get out and about than they ever have been before, so that shifts perception too.

Barry Keldoulis

It’s difficult to generalise – there are pockets of acknowledgement and appreciation – however in the broadest sense you could say there is an abundance of ignorance. This is perhaps not surprising when you realise our international tourism advertising is all furry animals and beaches, so many are surprised to find that we have any culture at all, let alone a vibrant, visual arts scene fed by our ages-old Indigenous culture, with its many contemporary practitioners, and our multicultural society fusing influences from all over the globe.

Within the artworld most will recognise that we produce some very good artists, whose work is interesting and universally appealing, which is highly valued for its artistic merits, whilst not necessarily commanding high dollar values.

Brook Andrew

My personal experience is not necessarily if you are Australian, it's more about the context of the work and concepts of the artwork itself. If it does connect to an Australian identity or history, as does for example Mexico with the works of Teresa Margolles, then people connect the dots. In saying this, many international people struggle to understand exactly what an Australian context is, so in many cases you have to explain this through extended conversations. I think generally people are increasingly fascinated and curious about Australia, especially the Euro-USA art scene, which is realising that the complexity of Australia is not a one-dimensional ex-colonial convict state.

Natalie King

Australian artists are highly mobile, adaptive and capable of working in improvised and provisional situations. Many artists undertake self-directed or formal residencies, so they are embedded in a place and can build networks and opportunities. It’s vital that artists, creatives and cultural workers are supported to roam and travel elsewhere.

Australian artists participate in high profile biennials, international exhibitions and art fairs. For example, Vincent Namatjira is presenting in December at Art Basel Miami Beach with Nicola Stein and Diane Tanzer from This is No Fantasy and Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran was co-commissioned with Artspace to produce an installation for Dhaka Art Summit in Bangladesh in February. These are highly valuable occasions. As a curator, I am thrilled to contribute to the international visual arts arena by co-curating an exhibition at the prestigious Museum of Photography in 2020 as part of the Tokyo Olympics. Sometimes, small changes can make a revolution.

Rachel Kent

There is definitely interest and curiosity, but sometimes a limited knowledge beyond the “big names”, or a limited awareness of contemporary Australian Indigenous practice. The Venice Biennale has been one high-visibility public platform over time, and Australian artists are incredibly mobile also – they travel more than any cultural communities I know, so they are very proactive in terms of pursuing or initiating opportunities to exhibit their work. And certainly some Australian artists do show with much success in international venues.

For visitors (artists, curators and a wider cultural community) who come to Australia to engage in art and culture, there is a real deepening of awareness of the breadth and diversity of practice here. There is also a realisation of the incredible variety, power and complexity of Indigenous practice from different parts of the country – and, I think, a sense of awe. I saw it just recently with the MCA's John Mawurndjul exhibition which was a revelation to local audiences, let alone international visitors.

Rhana Davenport

If we shift the question up a register, the question might be “What is the value and perception of artists on the world stage?”. Perhaps from a citizen level the obsession with auction prices in the media has certainly reduced value to a fiscal conversation only. Yet other conversations are happening fervently, with more people visiting art museums than ever in our history, while social practice and community-based participatory work involves people in new and unexpected ways.

Roslyn Oxley

When collectors and curators do come to Australia and New Zealand, they’re very impressed with the calibre of our artists, many are curated into international shows. The major problems are, Australia is a long way away from the epicentre of art, and our populations are relatively small and isolated. Artists in Europe or America or the UK enjoy the advantages of accessibility and visibility. In Australia we just don’t have that luxury. It makes it much more difficult for artists to sustain an international practice. Geography is not on our side.

Tim Olsen

I can’t speak for everybody, but there are certainly pockets of people who say that Australian contemporary artists possess enormous talent, and those pockets are growing. Generally, however, there is a misplaced sense that we’re not a culturally rich country and that we don’t have anything pertinent to say artistically. Our art is often enjoyed until the word Australia is mentioned and suddenly the whole perception of it shifts. But there are those people who recognize our creative output beyond just Aboriginal art, and that we do have, like our actors', musicians, and writers that have achieved acclaim internationally, a fruitful thinking artistic population.

Joanna Strumpf

There is no one easy answer for this, as all collectors are different. The majority of collectors start with what they like and connect to, a good CV is great. The fact of being Australian is often irrelevant. It’s often quite a way into a conversation before the artists’ nationality comes up.


What do we as an arts community do well with regards to the promotion of Aus/ NZ art inter-nationally?

Alexie Glass-Kantor

We’re not backwards about coming forwards. We may be a couple of islands off the back of Antarctica, but we have a huge amount of cultural production here. So, one of the things we do well is produce a lot of art. A lot of great art.

We are a country that is at a deficit in terms of its geographical location. The internet didn’t change the ability of our artists to reach out, it didn’t change the way that people collect or think about art. So, what we do well here is we mobilise, because we know that nothing can be taken for granted from this position. When you’re working with living artists, you’re working with living practices and a range of relationships across all levels of the sector. I think all Aus-tralians build relationships quite well; we are able to build the networks and inroads that mobilise capacity for artworks, artists and ideas to meet new audiences.

Barry Keldoulis

Although our tourism advertising is geared towards nature, the Australia Council does a good job of promoting our culture on a limited budget. Though I think cut back since the Brandis raid, the international studios program acknowledges that the artists themselves are our best ambassadors. Our presentations at the most prestigious art events – the Venice Biennal – puts us on the world stage, and our state institutions and the MCA’s engagement with not only inter-national artists, but also curators help focus attention our way. And we should not forget the valiant efforts of our private galleries that have international ambition for their artists and participate in art fairs and do gallery swaps around the globe.

Brook Andrew

Again, I think this is a matter of context, though artists do create better profiles when traveling and spending quality time internationally. All artists do this regardless of where they are from, but generally the Euro-USA and Asia axis is still very influential and many artists from Africa and Asia still travel and live in the Euro-USA regions. I think we need to connect more with Asia, the way in which South and Central America is connected to North America. Asia does have a very healthy arts community and well supported, especially financially, something Australia and New Zealand need to look at more closely.

Natalie King

Even though Venice Biennale hinges on national representation, I like to think that Australian artists can appear in a multitude of arenas and contexts. For example, Gordon Hookey, Bonita Ely and Dale Harding were part of documenta 14 and Reko Rennie presented a new film as a satellite project for Venice Biennale 2017. There are many ways to infiltrate and I like the idea of cultural incursions whether Australian artists appear in a publication, compendium, conference paper or exhibition. All modes and auxiliary events are relevant.

Rachel Kent

Partnerships, collaborations and exchanges between institutions in Australia and abroad – no matter how big or small – are incredibly valuable in offering opportunities to Australian artists and exposing their practices to a wide viewing public. In giving much-needed exposure, they also help to generate future opportunities.

I should also mention digital platforms as with the ease of communication and the internet, this too can be a way for a wider cultural community to research and explore Australian con-temporary art.

Rhana Davenport

Art Fairs, especially the recent rise of Art Basel Hong Kong, are vivacious, market-driven intensities for artist promotion. The Venice Biennale is always a highly visible platform and the swathe of other 200 or so Biennales around the world offer regular avenues for those well-travelled. Simultaneously Instagram and online journals such as Universes in Universe and Ocular are immediate filtered portals.

Roslyn Oxley

Art fairs offer an excellent platform for many Australian galleries to promote the work of their artists overseas. We’ve been going to international art fairs since 1990 - we’ve been doing at least one a year and in some years three a year. The benefit here is that you see the same audience at a lot of the fairs, so you build a much stronger following and you are on a more intimate basis with collectors, curators and international galleries.

Tim Olsen

I think our art market is becoming much more courageous in how it interacts with the international art world – participating in more fairs and biennials, exhibiting across old and new markets, creating more experimental works. Integrating with and exhibiting as part of the larger art world helps to assert us on the international stage.

To that end, the movement of our best creative thinkers- artists, critics, curators - to all reach-es of the globe has been critical to the promotion of our art internationally. It brings awareness to people who would otherwise never get to Australia. Secondly, and I think critically, it’s important for our collective artistic development for our artists to inform their thinking from a global perspective and get a sense of where they stand globally.

The digital age has helped to overcome some of the blunt geographic obstacles our market has suffered in the past. The internet has made our artists output more internationally accessible and educated a lot of people that Australia has the capacity to be a global thinker.

Ursula Sullivan

Individual gallery owners have fronted the costs of international exposure for their artists at art fairs which have begun many conversations with curators and collectors. Individual artists are often funded with residencies, which is great, but one gallery serves many artists, so I feel the work they have done in this area has been exponential.


What could we be doing better?

Alexie Glass-Kantor

I think it’s about understanding that it doesn’t get easier to be an artist or curator or director or gallery if you choose to live in Australia or New Zealand; there’s no point at which it becomes easy. The only constant is change. For Australia and New Zealand to be taken seriously on an international platform, we have to be more agile, less focused on the end game, and more focused on the process: building capacity, doing more than one thing, not thinking that that one project is going to get you what you need. It’s actually doing a project three, four, five, seven times.

It’s about creating partner venues, platforms and interlocking structures that form a matrix of networks to provide support for the kinds of projects you might be leading. But it’s also about building capacity for other people’s projects. We need to advocate, not just for ourselves, but also for each other. Meeting peers, meeting stakeholders, meeting artists, and connecting to create opportunity through advocacy.

We also need to invest in emerging artists. If you can’t gain momentum at the beginning of your career, then you’re not going to gain it at the end. As an artist, you have to build is resilience early, and the ability to be mobile. That can come at personal and financial expense, but you have to find the resources to make yourself available to working outside your local and specific context.

Barry Keldoulis

We could get over our own cultural cringe! We need to take advantage of the demise of the idea of the lone ‘art capital of the world’ and be more confident of the quality of the work produced here. It’s too easy to equate the dollar value to the cultural value, but we must understand that the price points are largely determined by the size of the markets involved, and we are not a big market.

Brook Andrew

Travel. Artists need to travel. I know it's expensive from this region, but the same is to be said from other regions to here. I think this is where benefactors could come into it. Maybe there could be a special artist fund to support travel that is dedicated for this purpose. But moreover, it depends on where one sees the 'centre'. If Euro-USA or Asia is the centre, well, this does in-volve travel.

Keep bringing artists and curators, writers and collectors to this region for events such as the Biennale of Sydney and other visiting programs that are active throughout Australian and New Zealand universities. I also believe that Australia needs to engage more in our Asia Pacific region like QAGOMA's APT has done for many decades and Artspace's visiting curatorial program.

Natalie King

I think that state and federal governments need to strategically align their priorities and provide a collective vision for international alliances and affiliations with a correlation of creative objectives. Previously, I was part of a cultural delegation to Seoul with Gertrude Contemporary and NGV which was a productive way to conduct collective research and field work in a collegial and generative way.

Rachel Kent

Again, to increase opportunities for Australian artists, we need opportunities and funds for them to travel, undertake residency programs, meet with curators and fellow artists abroad, and show their work in venues big and small.

Likewise, invitational programs that bring international curators and critics to Australian shores can be incredibly helpful - for example, it might be a curator researching Venice, Documenta or a biennale-type event; or someone coming on an exchange or talks program through a residency such as Artspace. In 2017 an international visiting curators program was implemented in tandem with The National, a new biannual survey held at the MCA, AGNSW and Carriageworks (the next iteration opens in mid 2019). This was a real positive in terms of getting curators into Australian studios and providing an 'on the ground' insight into a variety of practices.

Rhana Davenport

It’s interesting watching the careers of New Zealand artists over the past 12 years while I have been living there. I gave Simon Denny his first museum show in 2007 at Govett-Brewster and then whoosh, off he went. There is no question there exists a different momentum when artists choose to study abroad, particularly in Germany and Los Angeles. The influence and guidance of astute and generous teachers at art schools in Australasia is pivotal in this process.

Roslyn Oxley

The Australian art that is curated into major, international exhibitions is often incredibly well-received. This means cultivating an in-depth relationship with overseas curators and finding out which curators are doing interesting shows. But this takes people in the know to invite curators out to Australia.

When we know a curator is doing an important show, we should be inviting them here and introducing them to Australian art and artists. It is our duty as gallerists, as well as the government’s. Germany has just increased their federal funds for arts and culture to a whopping total of €1.8bn! It’s hugely important for countries to build and invest in their culture.

I think one of the other really big issues is transport – it’s a real killer. A lot of artists send work overseas that’s not completely finished to make it lighter or easier to transport. You can’t take a huge Australian sculpture to Paris and London without spending an astronomical amount. If we can get sponsorship for transport, we could have it all happening in a much bigger way.

Tim Olsen

Art these days is all about marketing and branding. Hopefully by what I’m doing in New York, where I’m integrating Australian and international art without emphasizing its geographic origins as part of its selling point or its curatorial point, will make a difference.

It’s going to take some Larry Gagosian or Jay Jopling to take an artist from Australia and show that it can be done. I’ve got Gagosian’s curators coming into my gallery and showing an interest in artists from some of our recent exhibitions. I’d hate to think that I’d brought an artist all the way to New York for them to be poached by Larry Gagosian – I mean, I’d be disappointed in one sense and flattered in another.

Joanna Strumpf

Participation is key. Being a part of the rest of the world. Australia can live in a bit of a bubble and be very defensive about how ‘world class’ we might be. The ‘world class’ conversation is really not necessary.


Who are the standout Aus/NZ artists working on an international level? What is it about their practice that translates to this international scale?

Alexie Glass-Kantor

It would be really reductive to try and suggest that there’s a type of practice that adapts well to an international stage, that #biennalestyle as some like to call it. I don’t believe in those things. I don’t believe that you make work that you think is going to appeal to a different type of audience or market because really, as an artist, or an institution, you need to be agile and open to iterative ways in which you might work.

But of course, there are artists that we see regularly in major international platforms who are both from Australia and New Zealand: people like Simon Denny, Patricia Piccinini, Angelica Mesiti. Artists like Mel O'Callaghan based in Paris, who recently had a solo show at the Palais de Tokyo and is coming up at the Pompidou. Someone like David Noonan, working and living in London, also creating, mentoring, and project opportunities for emerging curators and artists.

Barry Keldoulis

There are too many Australasian artists doing well on the various world stages to mention here! Not only in the market, but in academia and curating. There are many aspects to the work being made, but also to attitudes to contemporary art, that are helping the transition to ‘international’ from Australian or Kiwi. The globalisation of everything could have meant that there was just more ‘sameness’ out there, but also has meant that different perspectives are more appreciated in more places. Our slightly removed take on things, uninfected by proximity but informed by growing cultural awareness and understanding is unique. Our filter is now global but also very antipodean. It’s interesting.

Brook Andrew

Andrew Rewald is a Berlin-based artist who works with grassroots communities and perforce and mixes this with his chef skills. He works across platforms with scientists and community groups to expand further on how performance and art can comment on social change, the environment and history.

Mel O'Callahan is a video, performance and sculpture artist based in Paris. Her work is dedicated to often extraordinary stories of the world from remote cultures working with traditional practices to ideologies of protest.

Natalie King

In 2016, Patricia Piccinini had the highest attended exhibition in the world at Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil in Brazil which is a phenomenal accomplishment achieving over 8,000 visitors per day. Other artists are making independent headway. For example, Sally Smart collaborated on a range with the fashion house Marni and has recently had two exhibitions in Bali following on from a two-person exhibition that I co-curated at the National Gallery of Indonesia in Jakarta with Entang Wiharso. These are success stories to be celebrated.

Rachel Kent

There are a number of both established and rising Australian and New Zealand artists who have shown their work on the world stage in recent years. Currently, I'm really looking forward to seeing what Angelica Mesiti will produce for the next Venice Biennale, which opens in May 2019. Her work takes the form of single or multi-screen video environments, and employs elements of performance, music/dance or song – so there is a universal language inherent in the work; a kind of communication that cuts across barriers.

Rhana Davenport

Given my attentiveness to New Zealand art, I will speak to artists from Aotearoa. Lisa Reihana – whom I curated for the Biennale Arte 2017 in Venice – is about to be seen at the Royal Academy in London. Her astute re-navigation and representation of the fraught and inquisitive first encounters between Oceania and Europe is negotiated through a sophisticated and generous Indigenous time-based lens that tests imagined pasts and possible futures. Simon Denny – again, New Zealand’s artist for the Biennale Arte 2015 – is based in Berlin and had a solo exhibition at PS1 in New York in 2015. Denny’s work interrogates global economies and harnesses the diagrammatic aesthetics of visual communication strategies associated with information technology, surveillance and entrepreneurial circuits. Luke Willis Thompson won the Auckland Art Gallery’s Walters Prize in 2014 with a disarmingly intimate and transactional performative work, he lives in London and is a finalist in this year’s Turner Prize, his current work uses film to explore politically charged yet acutely personal human experience. Zac Langdon-Pole lives in Darmdstadt and Berlin, his subtle and poetic manipulations of materials have earned him the prestigious Ars Viva-Prize this year in Germany. Meanwhile figurative sculptor Frances Upritchard has been living in London since graduating in New Zealand in 1997 and has an impressive exhibition history in Europe and North America.

Roslyn Oxley

Tracey Moffatt, Bill Henson, Brook Andrew, Bill Culbert and Patricia Piccinini, to name a few. Tracey Moffatt is arguably Australia’s most well-known artist, both nationally and internation-ally. She is certainly one of the few Australian artists to have established a global market for her work. A filmmaker and photographer, Moffatt has held around 100 solo exhibitions of her work in Europe, the U.S. and Australia. With all of Moffatt’s work, she tells a story of personal memory, but she also carefully styles her narratives to allow multiple readings beyond the spe-cific politics of Australian identity. She wraps a story around all her work that transcends time and space, and people around the world respond to it.

Tim Olsen

Tracey Moffatt springs to mind. She works with an international language and has done very well in elevating herself above some of the parochial traps our market presents. I think her success also speaks to the importance of participating in biennials – it affirms the value and prestige of the artists work, attracts new audiences, and strategically thinking, it sets a benchmark for their career that international curators can understand and build on.

Ursula Sullivan

Lindy Lee is an obvious choice with multiple projects happening in New York, China and the Middle East. Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran is a busy boy too, with projects in Singapore and In-dia, and numerous collectors being based in Europe. Sam Jinks has had many works in the Netherlands, Denmark, Mexico, Spain, America, and a solo show in Taiwan. His collectors are based all over the world. All of these artists have demonstrated a commitment to obsessive excellence in their practice and international opportunities.


Parochialism has always been an issue in the Australian art world – Do you think this is chang-ing? Why/ why not?

Alexie Glass-Kantor

In his 1974 essay in Art Forum, Terry Smith said that Australia has a Parochialism problem. What we’ve seen between now and then is the rise and fall of the notion of globalisation, in which the edges were going to become the centre and the centre would become the edges. And we thought that there was going to be, around the 1980s and the 1990s and early 2000s a decentralisation program that would occur around making things more accessible.

And actually, what we’ve seen after globalisation or through globalisation is not that the edges became the centre and the centre became the edges and everything became easier to access. What we’ve actually found is that there’s more information, more knowledge, more content, more history than we can ever comprehend of any singular context.

We realise that the context in history of the art in the Philippines has just as much efficacy and agency as the history of art at its precursors in New Mexico as it does in Indonesia, as it does in Perth as it does in Auckland, and what we’ve actually seen I that every edge has its depth, every context… the edges are not the centre, there are still clusters of power that exist in the art world, because of economy, because of market forces, because of critical mass around population and geography that simply make them more accessible and that is what it is and that’s not about debunking or resituating power.

But what we have also found at the same time is that we have new currents, energies and riptides that move underneath the kind of dominant narratives of art history and say “fuck you”: feminist art histories and practices, people of cultural linguistic diversity, Indigenous, first nations. I don’t think Australian art is parochial, because actually what we have is like a breadth and guts of practice here that’s actually doing something substantially different than we were doing 40 years ago. We have a different set of concerns.

I think we have really great momentum and traction with artists and curators and writers and collectors creating extraordinary advocacy spaces, the ability to speak to our artists and our cultural spaces as more than the sum of one continent. However, what we have is a really remarkable continent with a really incredible history and we are unseated sovereign territory, we have incredible stories that remain to be told in contemporary ways about the intersection of indigenous and non-indigenous artists.

If Australia was only one city, right? The size of Karachi, the size of New York state, the size of Seoul (that’s what our population is) – if we had every museum, every not for profit, eve-ry commercial gallery, every artist studio, every art fair, everything we produce as one city, we’d be one of the most amazing cultural cities in the world! If you want to get beyond the Parochialism problem of 40-odd years ago – because it’s 2018 now – then you do that by actually recognising that what we produce is more than nothing, and that actually we have a really great opportunity to advocate and be passionate and strong, critical and risk-taking in the way that we communicate, think about and support Australian contemporary art.

Brook Andrew

I think there is a sense of parochialism in every country and region of the world. Many have it between Brisbane and the entire south of Australia; it's interesting regional politics. But on a more global scale, I think the only thing that can break down parochialism is getting on with the job at hand and collaborations with curators, writers and artists locally and inter-nationally. To continue the connections, conversations and international partnerships.

Natalie King

I am not interested in parochialism as it is limiting, nor the centre/periphery debate. The margins are the new centre and as Okwui Enwezor wrote in his essay for the 7th Gwangju Biennale (2007), there is an opening up of cultural seams and artistic production is scat-tered in near and far flung corners of the globe: artists have oriented themselves not to-wards centres and mainstreams, but towards a more transversal process of linkages, net-works and diverse communities of practice. For me, some of the most exciting practices are in Asia and in November, I will attend the vernissage of the Taipei Biennial and deliver a paper on “turbulence” at the International Association of Art Critics Congress in Taiwan. Conferences, symposia, masterclasses are places where creatives gather to share ideas and keep dreaming while keeping artists at the centre of our research.

Tim Olsen

I think it’s the attitude of Australians to almost talk about being Australian too early in the conversation. When you talk to an American or a German, a long conversation about art precedes any reference to their nationality. In the days that art was more about provincial themes, like French impressionism, of course, the idea of being French was very much a part of the conversation. Contemporary art is global conversation, and thinking on such a level that your place, your habitat, isn’t there until the end. Australians like to bring their parochial aspects into the conversation too early which feels a bit like having a chip on your shoulder.

We’ve got more international collectors collecting Australian art, but it’s really on the back of expats that a lot of international sales are made. The more that contemporary art gets exhibited in what we call ‘New York Native’ homes, as opposed to Australians, the more international people will see those works hung in collections and institutions. It was amazing to visit the Met and see Fred Williams hung there, and it would be great to see more of this.


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