Raft Artspace: Floating in the desert - Art Collector

Issue 62, October - December 2012

Kieran Finnane talks to Dallas Gold, the director of a Northern Territory gallery showing Indigenous and non-Indigenous work side by side.

Raft Artspace is a gallery with a mission. Initially in partnership with his artist friend Peter Adsett, Dallas Gold wanted to respond to Indigenous art as a movement in contemporary art. To do that, they had to show it in the context of other contemporary art. In Darwin, where Raft was launched in 2001, that meant also showing art from South East Asia as well as non-Indigenous Australian contemporary art. After nine years, and with a solid reputation built from 140 shows, Gold moved to Alice Springs.

What prompted the move?

There is amazing art being produced in both places [Darwin and Alice Springs] but every time I came here, I felt a strong intuitive pull to celebrate the movement with a different focus into the desert.

There is a real kick on in the APY Lands, where they have only decided in the past five years or so that they could paint large-scale paintings about their tjukurpa. I wanted to show that work in a program with some contemporary white artists and some Indigenous artists from the north. It would be the toughest gig, but complacency and boredom are scarier.

Your chief market is among interstate collectors. Why set up a physical gallery?

Even though your market is elsewhere, you need to have a culture around your gallery, believing in what you do. You need people to look. The shows aren’t just about selling. It’s a juggle, trying to do something with integrity and selling enough to be viable.

The market generally seems to have slowed. Has yours?

Some shows don’t sell well but are important for the program. Others are on a slow burn. After two years, a lot more local people appreciate what Raft is trying to do. For certain shows collectors will fly over, but more sales happen when they are in town, particularly around Desert Mob [an annual Alice Springs exhibition].

All the shows Raft has ever done are on our website. I still get as many enquiries about work but not as many lead to a definite sale.

In showing Aboriginal art, you work through art centres. How do you develop the shows?

Sometimes an art centre manager has an idea, sometimes I express interest in a particular artist. And I’ve done two shows with Hector Burton from Amata that were his idea – unusual and a great way to respond to things going on on the ground.

In the early days you could travel to an art centre, pick your show and bring it back. Not any more. Competition for good work and shows is a lot more intense, especially in the APY Lands at the moment.

That makes it difficult for shows to have a core curatorial reason for being. Art centres are under pressure to sell work and tend to do group shows to include as many artists as possible. Often the sales of their stars pay for the rest. Group shows are important, but you hope to respond to real developments in artists’ work and map the movement and in this context that’s not easy to achieve.

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