There is much jockeying for front position in the art industry, from artists to collectors to dealers, consultants, critics and industry organisations. All are looking to sell their wares at openings, at Fairs, in the printed press as well as on all the various permutations of social media: blogs, facebook, twitter, websites. Increasingly though, it is the virtual art world which is demanding our attention.
It goes without saying that if you are just setting up, the first thing required is a website, an FB page, a twitter account and Instagram skills. The question though really, is how to cut through the cyber hustle and bustle and get your story out there, persuading your supporters to push your wares further via their own networks (social media or otherwise).
What is interesting at the moment is how the older, more established industry organisations are finding their feet in cyberspace – how they are using technology and social media to rethink their role in the broader world of contemporary culture, what sets them apart, what they have to offer and where they wish to head. In other words, throwing themselves into social media to revamp, refresh and review.
Artbank, Museums and Galleries Foundation of NSW(M&G NSW) and the Art ConsultantsAssociation of Australia (ACAA) are three fairly diverse art industry organisations which are doing just this and each of which are worth checking out.
Artbank was launched in 1980. More a major art library than a bank, Artbank’s premise is to build a collection of (Australian) artworks from the broadest possible geographic (meaning national), medium and stylistic range and make it available via a rental scheme to government organisations, departments, corporations and individuals.
Initiated and set up by Graeme Sturgeon, based on an existing Canadian model and funded by the Commonwealth Government, Artbank continues to be the most benevolent and consistent of benefactors in the contemporary art world. It directly supports and encourages (mostly) emerging artists, by buying their works, by supporting the network of commercial galleries (even in a market downturn) and by promoting contemporary Australian art nationally and internationally through a fairly diverse network of clientele.
Since Tony Stephens took over in 2012, there has been a lot of new activity which seems to be enacting a new strategy to reposition Artbank at the forefront of cultural dialogue. With new branding, new logo, a new magazine, new open house events, a new website (which is only days away from launching – I gather –these complicated beasts take a while to develop) and an active social media profile, Artbank has shifted from a quiet achiever, to something that is louder, cutting edge and out in front.
Commissioning works is a new, inspired and confident step by Artbank to actively assist artists in developing their careers and participate in pushing contemporary practices to new places. Proactive and provocative, rather than reactive and reactionary, the commissioning process has the potential to determine a collection for Artbank which will offer a unique overview of contemporary art at a given point in time – ie now. In the nether reaches of hindsight such a collection will prove an invaluable historical resource.
The first commissioned artists which form part of the Performutations series, curated by Daniel Mudie-Cunningham (Senior Curator at Artbank and artist provocateur) thus far include: video pieces by Heath Franco, Laresa Kosloff, Mark Shorter, The Kingpins and Liam O’Brien. No doubt, leasing these video works will certainly test the resolve of the clientele, existing and potential, as well as the persuasive capacities of the Artbank staff and Board who approve all purchases.
Cultural commentators have been enlisted as celebrity talking heads in the online only Artbank 20/20 talks, musing on their preferred pieces in the Artbank collection. It is valuable to hear different reflections on artworks which are not necessarily steeped in art historical theory, rather considered from personal perspectives. Featured are: Carl Vine on Monika Behrens, Catharine Lumby on Bill Hensen, Robyn Archer on Jude Rae, Ian Temby QC on Sali Herman and Claudia Karvan on John Douglas to name a few.
The art trivia night in Sydney one wintry night some months back, was about bringing an industry together to bond, to have fun and to re-think Artbank as at the forefront. I didn’t see many corporate or public servant clientele across the room and possibly the antics of Renny Kodgers (aka Mark Shorter) may have been one step too far for any other than the true believers, but the event put Artbank fairly and squarely infront of its best advocates as the go- to place to access not just contemporary, but cutting edge critical cultural practice.
Sturgeon, the recently launched Artbank publication, edited by Daniel Mudie-Cunningham (sounds like he is particularly busy), sets the marker for the next phase, “looking to the future through the past”. It is a lovely respectful nod to the legacy of Graeme Sturgeon as the founding Director and an honest acknowledgement of Artbank’s strengths and weaknesses: Artbank’s collection of some ten thousand works represents as much the successes as it does the failures of Australian contemporary during this period of time [since 1980]. The commissioned essays are worth the read, particularly Catharine Lumby’s as a self effacing reflection on art criticism in the 1980s. Art speak and art criticism were certainly dressed up and fancy in those days. Weren’t the 80s all about getting dressed…… ?
Also a feature in the mag are commissioned photographic essays of artists recording the paths from their homes to the Artbank offices in their respective cities. Garry Trinh takes a quirky walk through suburbia to reach his destination (he has a show coming up at ACP later this month) while John Tsiavis offers something more balletic.
Like the FB page, tweet to or about them, check out the talking heads on vimeo, buy the magazine and then look to rent an artwork or two. Artbank is determined to present itself as more than a repository of things to stick on the wall and look at. Watch that space!
The Museum and Galleries NSW is the central point for the network of (mostly) small public galleries and museums throughout NSW, based in Sydney: [ It] provides programs and services improving the visitor experience in small to medium museums, galleries and Aboriginal cultural centres across NSW .
M&G NSW aims to promote and support this network by way of lobbying to various levels of government, organising and funding (in part) exhibitions and professional development opportunities, among some of their core activities. It has been around for a long time, though in a previous guise as 2 organisations, one representing professionally managed art galleries and the other supporting public museums, both professionally and volunteer managed. There is a difference…. I know the gallery network across regional and rural NSW (indeed nationally) better than that of museums and have always acknowledged the breadth and calibre of the galleries, their collections, exhibitions and community engagement. If you still believe that everyone else outside of Sydney is “just camping”, think again.
M&G NSW has stepped confidently into the 21st Century and just launched its new website. It is particularly impressive. In one engine, it caters for the curious public as well as the informed sector itself. It makes marketing, managerial and financial sense to combine its many facets into one website, connecting all those dots and creating a really thorough overview of cultural activity (visual arts) across NSW. But the real test is managing this large beast which I imagine will be a near full time job for someone – even if each member gallery and museum can update their own information.
Click on the tabs for visual arts, art chat, beasts and bones (love that), kids, notorious and favourite things and discover that there is lot happening in small public galleries/ museums. If you want to find a job in the network, learn a bit more a particular exhibition, collection or art event, or map out a cultural driving tour (an art trail) of a particular part of NSW, then this is your resource. It gives a current, intelligent and detailed overview of what is happening out there, beyond the Sydney CBD (and that included).
Spend a bit of time creating your own profile and this website will give back to you generously.
The regional galleries range from large with significant collections and several professional staff, to smaller very focussed collections with possibly only one or 2 part time staff. They are extraordinary resources in their respective communities and should be valued and developed for future generations.
Orange is vibrant centre which has retained much of its youth population precisely because of its commitment to contemporary culture. You should know Orange for food and wine, as well as its music centre, and also its award winning regional gallery. The gallery was purpose designed and built in the early 80s (rare then) and won the Sulman Award for Architecture. It came about primarily due to the generous donation of a significant collection of Australia modernist art by Mary Turner, a onetime director of Macquarie Galleries in Sydney and Canberra. This generosity and farsighted philanthropy is not exclusive to Orange and has been the raison d’etre for establishing many of the galleries.
Newcastle Regional Gallery is another key public gallery in regional NSW, with a particularly impressive collection and spaces for exhibitions. Over the years it has attracted many donations and major benefactors believing that a steel city could have the best gallery in the country.
Today, unbelievably, this is now under threat from its own Council which is seeking to replace professional staff with extensive experience and knowledge whose business is to manage art galleries, with beaurocrats whose business is to count beans. Talk about short sighted. This lack of support and cringeing attitude will do much harm to the Gallery’s reputation and future potential. Who would be willing to bequeath anything to any organisation which is not upheld and applauded by its own management? What other gallery would be willing to tour an exhibition to a space where it would be not be received, checked, installed and presented by people who know what they are doing? This is turning point in the life of Newcastle once voted as ‘most liveable city in Australia’. Life is not meant to be dull and grey and about counting beans.
There is much being said, again on social media, about the dire straits of this scenario at Newcastle. You can get more information online (try facebook) and can lend your support to the Gallery, should you feel inclined to do so.
Then, the small, but influential (if I say so myself), Art Consulting Association of Australia (ACAA) has just launched an online magazine – Canvass – a very easily digested magazine, with reviews and appraisals written by people who live, work and breathe the visual arts. As with Artbank and M&G NSW , one click and your world opens and your knowledge is extended.
And just to digress slightly. I went to Danks St the other night, to an event hosted by all the tenant galleries. As a group they are looking to strengthen connections but in the old fashioned way: with a get together, over a film, drinks and nibbles. It was very enjoyable and very civilised. Events associated around art happenings or discussions are not new to Danks St – there have been Conversations and Talks, even a stand-up -wander through – dinner – in an effort to create an environment around the galleries and their artists, collectors and punters in general.
On Wednesday evening director Mandy Change introduced her provocative documentary The Mona Lisa Curse. This award winning doco is a biting examination by the late great art critic Robert Hughes of how the world’s most famous painting came to influence the art world, just as the art market began its (as he sees it) insidious rise. Looking back over a lifetime spent talking and writing about the art he loves and loathes, Hughes explores, with wit and panache, how museums, the production of art and the way we experience it have radically changed in the last 50 years.
Made in 2009 Hughes’ insights are as incisive and lofty as ever, at times even, nostalgic. Hughes, though older and obviously weary, remains as steadfast and passionate in his belief in the power of art to transform and transcend. In the film, which he narrates, he does not hold back with his opinions in the name of the social graces or supposedly affirmed recent art history. Indeed there is a particular interview in which his polite line of inquiry reveals the thoughtless (possibly corrupt) greed of a well known international collector. The interview makes you squirm as Hughes offers this collector just enough rope ….. This collector is not the only one in this film who does not come out looking pretty. As a consequence, the director Chang has been harassed, threatened, the film banned, with some bits still on the cutting room floor. So whilst the film may have won awards it has had checkered distribution.
Which is where that other invaluable social media tool – youtube – comes in handy and where you can find the film, to watch in your time and space. Keep an eye out for future movie nights at Danks St.