Nellie Castan Gallery: A grand adventure - Art Collector

Issue 55, January - March 2011

Helen McKenzie talks to the ebullient Nellie Castan and finds that her approach to both life and art is about being open to fun and adventure.

There was a time – a decade ago – that Nellie Castan toyed with the idea of retirement. She thought she might go into art consultancy. But the lure of presenting art proved too much and Nellie Castan Gallery opened its doors. Ten years on, Castan says “my passion to show vibrant, interesting, exciting, cutting edge contemporary art has not been diminished in any way – if anything it’s still growing very strongly. It has taken on its own momentum. I am showing 20 artists who I think are fantastic. Artists who started off [with me] as emerging artists and are now mainstream, highly collectable and in the forefront of contemporary art and culture.” Annette Bezor and Prudence Flint are represented by Castan; so too is Chris Bond who had a sold out show at the Melbourne Art Fair last year.

A fan of art fairs, Castan says they are a great way to promote artists. Fairs have been good for business too with Darren Wardle and Gordon Hookey also enjoying “enormous” success. Castan has been involved with the Melbourne At Fair since its inception, has participated in the Auckland Art Fair and is contemplating participating in fairs in both Korea and Hong Kong in 2011.

Castan enjoys associations that date from the 1980s with artists Marina Strocchi and Wayne Eager and is equally excited by newcomers Bindi Cole and Dorota Mytych.

Castan believes one of the elements of the gallery’s success is her ability to spot talent. “As a collector myself I’ve always looked at art, overseas and nationally. I have great admiration for artists and a great passion to be able to give them an opportunity to develop their practice and become nationally and internationally known,” says Castan. “I have a very eclectic gallery – there is a thread and the thread is that they are all fine artists. They are all exciting, dynamic and evolving. They have a range of ideas that excite me and excite them and we can then promote them to the wider collecting public.”

The wider collecting public is increasingly better informed than ever, according to Castan. They are well read and savvy. “It’s become much more democratic. The younger collectors want to see and meet with the artists and do studio visits. That’s fine. The older collectors want to be left alone. They have probably filled up their homes, but they still want to see what we do. We don’t have a policy of hard sell, we walk softly and let the work speak for itself – we guide the collectors – love the work first and then think about buying it.”

The serious art promoter also has a lighter side. When questioned about the origin of the kewpie doll as her mascot Castan giggles and tells the story of herself as a newcomer to Australia who went to the Royal Melbourne Show and fell in love with kewpie dolls. “I was born in Russia, in Kazakhstan and came out here when I was six. When I first saw a kewpie doll I thought she was such a happy little doll with her open arms, she became my mascot.” So began Castan’s collecting life. Today there is a large kewpie doll in her gallery. Castan says “it makes me happy when I walk up the stairs. It reminds me that art should also have a sense of fun and adventure.” •

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