Ryan Renshaw Gallery: Stealth Operator - Art Collector

Issue 51, January - March 2010

Brisbane gallerist Ryan Renshaw prefers to fly under the radar. Shunning the brash politics of poaching collectors from neighbouring galleries, he is instead stealthily building up his profile among interstate and online collectors writes Alison Kubler.

The vertiginous location of Ryan Renshaw Gallery, on a steep hill in the Brisbane suburb of Spring Hill, ensures patrons don’t get too inebriated at exhibition openings lest they lose their footing. As much as it is geographically challenging, the location is also a strategic one, situated within the larger arts precinct of New Farm and the Valley and also close to the Institute of Modern Art and commercial galleries.

Ryan Renshaw is emerging as a serious contender in the commercial art world. The process has been a considered one, and not by virtue of self-aggrandisement. Rather, Renshaw could be described as something of a stealth gallerist. Since establishing the gallery in 2004, he has been working on slowly building his profile, preferring to deliberately fly under the radar to focus on consolidating the quality of the gallery’s artists and exhibitions.

Renshaw has allowed collectors to find him, careful not to poach from what is essentially a small pool of Queensland-based collectors, instead looking to establishing the gallery’s national profile by showing interstate artists. Renshaw says: “Most of my collectors are from interstate and buy online. It’s amazing really. People look at art now on their computer screens. I recognise that it represents a real leap of faith on the part of the collector and I applaud that.”

Ryan Renshaw Gallery represents a new hybrid commercial gallery model, offering a mix of shows by a solid stable of represented artists – James and Eleanor Avery, Claudia Damichi, James Dodd, Rodney Glick, Christopher Langton, Alasdair Macintyre, Peter Madden, Yoshiro Masuda, Scott Miles, Simeon Nelson, John Nicholson, Bruce Reynolds, Giles Ryder, Kate Shaw and Martin Smith – as well as non-represented artists (local, interstate and international). In addition, the gallery stages exhibition collaborations with other commercial galleries such as Darren Knight Gallery. It is a powerful strategy that has contributed to the gallery’s vital character, one that keeps the punters guessing.

Renshaw says: “The last thing I want the gallery to become is a traditional model representing artists who I then show year in, year out. The space endeavours to be fluid. The ability to have a generous number of one-off exhibitions with artists and relationships with other galleries is important to me. I exhibited Archie Moore, who is represented locally by Fireworks Gallery, and have undertaken similar projects with artists like Craig Easton (Nellie Castan Gallery), Nicholas Folland (Greenaway Art Gallery) and Pat Foster and Jen Berean (Murray White Room).” The latter exhibition proved something of a litmus test for Brisbane, demonstrating that although project-based shows can prove a tough sell, showing edgy contemporary art is not the remit of public institutions alone. Renshaw concedes: “Selling art is of course important. The simple truth is that without money the gallery can’t continue to exist, but I’m determined that it will never define what I do, or what I show.”

A typical opening attracts a large audience of curators, gallery directors, artists and collectors who regularly spill out onto the street, clinging to the hill like so many mountain goats. This critical relevance is important to Renshaw, who works hard to create career longevity for his artists alongside commercial viability. “The curatorial premise of the gallery is conceptually-focused so for me the theoretical basis of the artists I show is at least as important as the physical object itself.”

Artist Martin Smith says: “Ryan is an ethical and creative gallerist whose support, honesty and judgment has been invaluable to me. He is insightful and intelligent, committed to artists’ long term futures.”
On the touchy subject of asking collectors to sign contracts that they won’t resell works, Renshaw observes: “Australia is a small market by world standards. The number of genuine collectors buying is tiny, and the number buying work with the intent to sell at auction is negligible. As dealers we need to be finding ways to encourage the purchasing of art and stimulating our industry, not giving people more reasons not to buy.”

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