John Buckley Gallery: Talking 'bout my generation - Art Collector

Issue 52, April - June 2010

Melbourne art dealer John Buckley says the art world is too focused on finding bright new stars. To redress this imbalance, he has committed himself to showing the work of established artists of his own generation, he tells Victoria Hynes.

Few commercial gallerists can boast as colourful a career as Melbourne-based dealer John Buckley. From partying at Madonna’s birthday bash with Andy Warhol in New York, to supping high tea with Gilbert & George in London, Buckley is an arts figure with an international reputation.

His spacious Richmond gallery, located in an old meat factory on Albert Street, showcases his passion for contemporary art, sustained over a dynamic career spanning five decades. Buckley’s main predilection is for representing artists of what he refers to as “my generation” – the likes of Gareth Sansom, Dale Hickey and John Firth-Smith, now all heading into their seventies.

Buckley opened his current gallery premises in 2006, following a six-year stint in Prahran. Previous to this he conducted an illustrious career as a curator. A former director of the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane in the 1970s, where he worked with Roy and Betty Churcher among others, he later became the founding director of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne in 1984. He left to pursue freelance curating, bringing the work of many international artistic luminaries to Australia, such as Phillip Guston and Robert Mapplethorpe and arranged visits by Carl Andre and Keith Haring.

He established his own gallery in 2000, in response to what he saw as an imbalance in the contemporary art world. “My feeling has been that the art world has changed and become more like the fashion industry – all about the bright, new young stars, some of whom will make the distance in the future and some who won’t. But I felt that this particular older generation, who are producing work of real substance and probably doing the best work of their careers, needed continuing support. So the gallery is based on that premise.”

That’s not to say that the gallery is fixed in a time warp. Says Buckley: “We’re also ‘watering the grass’ as it were and bringing in a whole crop of new young artists, such as Steven Rendall, Glenn Walls and Carl Scrase and then there’s a middle generation – people like Janenne Eaton, Domenico De Clario, Steve Cox and others. So you’ve got quite a cross-section.” Although painters tend to predominate, there is an emphasis on sculptors as well, with Bruce Armstrong, Geoffrey Bartlett and Peter D Cole all exhibiting regularly at John Buckley Gallery.

From artistic elders, to mid-career and emerging artists, the gallery now represents over 20 artists that straddle three to four generations. Another distinguishing feature is the number of curated shows, reflecting the gallery director’s own background in the public sector. “Every once in a while I can’t resist putting on my curator’s hat,” he laughs. “I think that is something that makes the gallery a little different … holding exhibitions that are not part of the normal commercial gallery program.” His curatorial forays during the gallery’s tenure include, Neo-Pop, Australian Drawing (another of Buckley’s favoured media) and Neo-Minimalism.

Upcoming shows at John Buckley Gallery include a solo show by Wade Marynowsky, a young video and performance artist featured in the Museum of Contemporary Art’s 2009 Primavera, a retrospective of the work of international filmmaker and artist Philippe Mora (son of renowned Melbourne art identity Mirka), and a survey show of his artistic contemporaries with the working title Talking ‘Bout My Generation.

Buckley seems possessed of a creative energy that would make many half his age envious. With a busy sideline arts consultancy business, building corporate and private art collections (recent jobs included a complete refurbishment of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Melbourne), his reputation as a dealer and curator with astonishing artistic expertise remains unparalleled.