Pre­view: Mary Place,

Artist Profile - - CONTENTS - by John McDon­ald

The move by the duo be­hind New­town’s De­fi­ance Gallery to take over the lease on Mary Place Gallery in Padding­ton is set to make a ma­jor im­pact on the art scene in 2018.

CAMP­BELL ROBERT­SON-SWANN and Lau­ren Har­vey, art deal­ers with a sense of history, have taken over the lease of the ground floor of Mary Place Gallery for 2018 with the aim of do­ing qual­ity shows by es­tab­lished artists. Syd­ney en­tre­pre­neur, John Fei­t­el­son, is sup­port­ing the project. “No strug­glers, no stu­dents, no sec­ond-raters,” says Robert­son-Swann, who swears he’d rather leave the gallery va­cant than hang some­thing just to pay the rent. De­fi­ance, the duo’s New­town gallery, has al­ways been too small for their am­bi­tions and too far from the cen­tre of the Syd­ney art scene. Even though that scene has been drift­ing south-west for more than a decade it has yet to chal­lenge Padding­ton’s pri­macy. Over the past few years De­fi­ance has held a num­ber of larger, more am­bi­tious ex­hi­bi­tions at the Yel­low House in Potts Point, show­ing work by artists such as Peter God­win, Peter Powditch, Ann Thom­son and the late Roy Jack­son. The as­so­ci­a­tion with Mary Place seeks to broaden the gallery’s role by invit­ing pro­pos­als from other deal­ers and host­ing spe­cially cu­rated ex­hi­bi­tions. The first event, which opened at the end of Fe­bru­ary, is a group show fea­tur­ing senior De­fi­ance artists. The aim is to hold four to five De­fi­ance ex­hi­bi­tions per year, while hand­ing over “com­plete cu­ra­to­rial and ad­min­is­tra­tive con­trol” for all other shows. While Robert­son-Swann is ob­sessed with qual­ity, he is also con­cerned that au­di­ences don’t see ev­ery­thing as a De­fi­ance ini­tia­tive. For once, he wants to act as a cat­a­lyst rather than a con­trol freak. Sev­eral ex­hi­bi­tions have al­ready been pinned down while oth­ers are be­ing ne­go­ti­ated. Janet Clay­ton, for in­stance, will be show­ing Bill Brown’s work. Charles No­drum and Utopia have also signed up, and there is a pro­posal for a sur­vey of con­tem­po­rary In­done­sian art. One of the at­trac­tions of 12 Mary Place is its long pedi­gree as a ex­hi­bi­tion space. This dates back to July 1979, when ar­chi­tect Julius Bokor took pos­ses­sion of the build­ing. By then it had al­ready been through mul­ti­ple in­car­na­tions. The four-storey struc­ture be­gan life in 1919 as a builder’s work­shop and store­room. In 1921 it be­came a choco­late factory which would be de­stroyed by fire two years later. From 1924 un­til 1979 the build­ing was owned by the Wearne fam­ily and rented out to a suc­ces­sion of en­ter­prises, in­clud­ing a com­mer­cial printer, an up­hol­sterer, a toy factory, and a light engi­neer­ing work­shop. The first hint of an art-as­so­ci­ated use dates from 1967, when Padding­ton was evolv­ing into Syd­ney’s Bo­hemian quar­ter. The build­ing housed picture framer Steven Reid, and served as a venue for ex­hi­bi­tions of prints and art classes. Artist Janet Daw­son and her lit­er­ary hus­band, Michael Boddy, lived and worked there for a while. Other ten­ants in­cluded an ar­chi­tec­tural firm, AIT Con­sul­tants, and the ad­ver­tis­ing agency that be­came known as Mojo. When Bokor be­came owner he en­vis­aged the build­ing as both an ar­chi­tec­tural stu­dio and a gallery. Those who would use the space in­cluded long-term Syd­ney deal­ers, Gallery A and Barry Stern. The most no­to­ri­ous ten­ant was David Reid, who rented three floors from Bokor be­tween 1980 and 1982. The Reid fam­ily be­gan with soar­ing am­bi­tions, launch­ing a charm of­fen­sive on the Syd­ney art scene. John Olsen was the prize catch, but Bokor also re­mem­bers shows by Marion Borgelt, Keith Looby, Suzanne Archer, Robert Jacks, Liz Coats and David Van Nunen.

One of the mem­o­rable mo­ments of the Reid years was a joint ex­hi­bi­tion of Brett White­ley’s work or­gan­ised by dealer Robin Gib­son, whose own gallery was too small for the mas­sive paint­ings the artist had been pro­duc­ing. Ac­cord­ing to bi­og­ra­pher Ashleigh Wil­son, it was White­ley him­self who de­cided on Mary Place as the venue for the show, which in­cluded Oberon land­scapes, pic­tures of a cru­ci­fied Joel Elen­berg (White­ley’s sculp­tor friend, dy­ing of can­cer), and the por­trait of No­bel Prize-win­ning au­thor Pa­trick White that now re­sides in the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery in Can­berra. Wil­son writes how White­ley “burst through the doors one day and de­clared: ‘Look at all this won­der­ful space! I’ll have my ex­hi­bi­tion here’.” At this time White­ley’s star could not have been higher, with ev­ery show greeted as a ma­jor event on our cul­tural cal­en­dar. The work was widely re­viewed, the artist’s ge­nius rit­u­ally de­bated in the me­dia, and sales were ro­bust. One re­port de­scribed “breath­less buy­ers” swarm­ing around Robin Gib­son. “It should have been the mak­ing of the Reids,” says Bokor. But it wasn’t. The fluc­tu­at­ing for­tunes of the David Reid Gallery over the fol­low­ing two years is a fas­ci­nat­ing study in its own right, and a cau­tion­ary tale for artists. While the wine and bon­homie flowed freely, bills and rent re­mained un­paid. Even­tu­ally Bokor had no choice but to lock the Reids out, and ar­range for all works of art to be picked up on a sin­gle day in March 1982. Barry Stern agreed to lease the first two floors shortly af­ter­wards, ush­er­ing in a decade of sta­ble ten­ancy which ended in 1992, when the dealer moved over­seas. Rather than look for a new full-time ten­ant, Bokor de­cided to use Mary Place as a free­lance ex­hi­bi­tion space, “avail­able pri­mar­ily to cu­ra­tors, gal­leries and launch­ing artists”. As Syd­ney’s long­est-run­ning rental gallery, Mary Place pi­o­neered a model that is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly com­mon in an era when art fairs and the In­ter­net are mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for deal­ers to main­tain a per­ma­nent ex­hi­bi­tion space. The list of artists who have been through the Mary Place Gallery over the past 25 years in­cludes Suzanne Archer, David Asp­den, Kate Briscoe, Bill Brown, Gunter Christ­mann, Lucy Cul­li­ton, Roy Jack­son, Ildiko Ko­vacs, Peter Powditch and Ann Thom­son. The ground floor has proven to be an ex­cel­lent venue for three-di­men­sional work, with ex­hibitors in­clud­ing Paul Hop­meier, Kevin Nor­ton, Michael Buza­cott and Clara Hali. Among the lead­ing Indige­nous artists who have been seen at Mary Place are Clif­ford Pos­sum Tjapalt­jarri, Kath­leen Pet­yarre and Billy Thomas. In 1995 Don Holt used Mary Place to stage a sur­vey of Emily Kame Kng­war­r­eye’s work at a time when her rep­u­ta­tion was es­ca­lat­ing. The gallery has pro­vided a venue for Mel­bourne deal­ers such as Ni­a­gara Gal­leries, Charles No­drum, Irene Sut­ton and Wil­liam Mora to hold Syd­ney ex­hi­bi­tions, and has hosted shows put to­gether by art con­sul­tants and free­lance cu­ra­tors. In 2002 Bokor ini­ti­ated the an­nual Mary Place Ex­hi­bi­tion to show works by emerg­ing artists un­der the age of 30. Ris­ing stars such as Ben Quilty and Guy Maestri fea­tured in these over­views. For Robert­son-Swann and Har­vey it’s largely a mat­ter of keep­ing up the tra­di­tions that Bokor es­tab­lished, while bring­ing some fresh vi­sion and en­ergy to the task. If there’s a sense of ur­gency it’s be­cause of the rapid changes over­tak­ing the Aus­tralian com­mer­cial gallery net­work which have seen the clo­sure of so many es­tab­lished venues. Even the ven­er­a­ble Wat­ters Gallery has an­nounced that af­ter 54 years in the busi­ness it will wind up at the end of 2018. In the new world of art there will be many artists left with­out rep­re­sen­ta­tion and oth­ers with lit­tle chance of ever join­ing a rep­utable sta­ble. We’re en­ter­ing an age of self-re­liance, in which there will be more flex­i­ble al­liances be­tween artists and their agents, and an ever greater de­mand for spa­ces to hold one-off shows. Mary Place has history and lo­ca­tion on its side. If the new lease­hold­ers have their way it will soon be re­claim­ing a prom­i­nent po­si­tion on the Syd­ney gallery cir­cuit.

Mary Place Gallery 12 Mary Place, Padding­ton, NSW

EX­HI­BI­TIONS

De­fi­ance Gallery at Mary Place 15 Fe­bru­ary — 23 March, 2018 Paul Hop­meier, Past Mod­ern Madonna 24 March — 8 April, 2018 Lau­rence Ed­wards, Hands that Toil 15 April — 13 May, 2018

01 Camp­bell Robert­son-Swann and Lau­ren Har­vey 02 Peter Powditch, Sun torso 145 (bunch), 1972, syn­thetic poly­mer paint on hard­board, pri­vate col­lec­tion, pho­tog­ra­pher Stephen Oxenbury 03 Bill Brown, Mickey Kicks a Goal, 1998, acrylic and char­coal on can­vas,178 x 173cm 04 Ann Thomp­son, Trans­mis­sion, 2004, oil on li­nen, 122.5 x 152cm 05 Roy Jack­son, All this from this place, 2007, acrylic on can­vas, 180 x 200cm 06 Jan King, Triad, 2012, slate and steel, 41 x 19 x 30cm 07 Lau­rence Ed­wards, Catcher, 2016, no. 1 from edi­tion of 5, bronze, 304 x 175 x 65cm, pho­tog­ra­pher Bill Jack­son

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