Sullivan+Strumpf Fine Art: New Kids on the Block - Art Collector

Issue 33 July-September 2005

Sullivan + Strumpf Fine Art sydney opened its doors for its first exhibition in february 2005. The brainchild of Ursula Sullivan and Joanna Strumpf, the gallery represents a diverse group of artists that includes Alasdair Mcintyre, Darren Sylvester, Sydney Ball and Vr Morrison, as well as dealing works from the secondary contemporary market. With solid backgrounds working for Denis Savill, Eva Breuer, James Erskine’s Liverpool Street Galleries and auction house Lawson-Menzies, Sullivan and Strumpf may be the newest kids on the block but they’re probably also among the most experienced. Andrew Frost caught up with the duo.

Australian Art Collector: Where is the gallery? What’s the building you’re in?
Ursula Sullivan: In the 1970s it was Robin Gibson’s Gallery [on Gurner Street, Paddington] and it was where Brett Whiteley and Tim Storrier started out. Then it was Eddie Glastra Gallery and then Ken Done owned it for 18 months and renovated it beautifully – which we can now reap the benefits of!

AAC: You both worked for Denis Savill and Eva Bruer?
US: We both worked for Eva and then when we worked for Dennis, Jo was in Sydney and I was in Melbourne. This is really the first time we’ve worked together, although we bought paintings together the whole time as a private interest. We constantly had something on lay buy –
Joanna Strumpf: – and we were constantly broke. We started off small. We were dealing in such big numbers at work – selling things for $50,000 or $100,000 – that it didn’t take long to get quite seriously into debt. We weren’t earning great money and we were paying things off while trying to find money for the rent. But it was also a fun time.

AAC: What did you learn from working for Eva Bruer and Dennis Savill?
JS: I learnt more working for them in the first six months than I did in four years studying art history at university. You get to handle paintings, to have hands on experience that you don’t get from looking at slides everyday.
US: You get to understand the people who are actually interested in acquiring paintings. It takes a lot of guts to be a collector and until you meet them you’re missing a huge amount of market knowledge.

AAC: When did you start thinking about opening a gallery together?
JS: I wanted to do the auctions thing because it was something I wanted to fully experience that aspect of the industry before I committed myself to the life of a gallery.
US: And I wasn’t that interested in auctions. I was more interested in learning about contemporary art and that’s where the thought came to combine [primary and secondary markets in a gallery]. I wanted to deal with artists – the real people who are making the work. The gallery has merged our knowledge for the greater good! Opening the gallery was something that we were always thinking of, but it didn’t come to fruition until the middle of last year. When it happened, it happened very quickly.

AAC: How did you finance the gallery?
US: We had a fellow who we knew who lived overseas and he had been following our careers. He saw that we were doing well and making other people a lot of money. He decided that he would help us out and away we went.

AAC: He was backing you? Is that how you would phrase it?
JS: He’s a very distant, very silent partner

AAC: Is that how you financed the start up?
US: We all chipped in.
JS: The way we wanted to set up the gallery, we obviously needed to put in money. But we both put in the stock of paintings that we’d been collecting for seven years and that amounted to a tidy sum.

AAC: Was the primary/secondary gallery model something you had planned?
JS: Having dealt with the kind of secondary market material we had with Eva and Dennis, we knew there was really little way we could get together the capital to deal in the best of the 20th Century modernist works. We’re not interested in dealing second rate stuff – we only want to sell the best stuff available to us. Contemporary art is the way forward. If we could do secondary market at the same time – why not?

AAC: Are you looking to take on more artists or expand the dealing side of the business?
JS: Yes, both. We’re looking to build our stable, but we’re doing it slowly and we’re in no great hurry. Our goal is to expand the gallery and we can do it in this building, so it’s literally onwards and upwards for us.

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