ART FINDS A NEW AU­DI­ENCE

Artist Profile - - NEWS - by Kon Gou­ri­o­tis & Elli Walsh

Anew part­ner­ship is bring­ing art out of the gal­leries and into the sleek foy­ers and cor­ri­dors of the cor­po­rate world. For emerg­ing artists, in­no­va­tions such as the Clay­ton Utz Art Part­ner­ship could be the ca­reer break they are hop­ing for. IN AN ERA WHERE THE ONCE-NAR­ROW WHITE CUBE walls of art ex­hibit­ing are ex­pand­ing into a multi-lev­elled ed­i­fice – from dig­i­tal gal­leries to com­mer­cial spa­ces and ‘pop-ups’ – art is find­ing new au­di­ences in fresh places. One such set­ting is in­side the glass-clad façade of one of Aus­tralia’s lead­ing law firms, Clay­ton Utz, where an ini­tia­tive with 3:33 Art Projects is chang­ing the face of cor­po­rate art dis­plays. The con­cept of ‘cor­po­rate art’ is not a new one, and some of the world’s best art col­lec­tions be­long to busi­nesses such as Deutsche Bank, UBS and Bank of Amer­ica Mer­rill Lynch. But Clay­ton Utz is do­ing things dif­fer­ently. The firm is host­ing reg­u­lar six-monthly ex­hi­bi­tions, part­ner­ing each time with two or more artists at dif­fer­ent stages in their ca­reers, and also es­tab­lish­ing an artist-in-res­i­dence pro­gram at its Syd­ney premises. Con­ceived by col­lec­tor, cu­ra­tor and founder of 3:33 Art Projects, Max Ger­manos, a for­mer banker and lawyer, The Clay­ton Utz Art Part­ner­ship rep­re­sents an in­no­va­tive step in the di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of art ex­hibit­ing. ‘This is not your usual cor­po­rate art col­lec­tion; it’s ac­tive and dy­namic, with an im­me­di­ate im­pact,’ says Ger­manos. The project is symp­to­matic of an era where time is a com­mod­ity and leisure a lux­ury. At its heart is the aim of ex­pos­ing the time-poor cor­po­rate sec­tor to con­tem­po­rary Aus­tralian art, whereby Syd­ney’s peren­nial gallery-go­ers are sup­planted by an au­di­ence far re­moved from the bub­ble that is the ‘art world’. The part­ner­ship is a plat­form to not only view art, but to spend time with it in a fa­mil­iar, com­fort­able set­ting – a del­i­cacy in our ex­po­nen­tially fast-paced lives. ‘Art is crit­i­cal in cor­po­rate spa­ces,’ says Ger­manos. ‘Peo­ple spend hours, week­ends, work­ing in these places. I want peo­ple to live with the art, not to see it for a mil­lisec­ond in a gallery. And a lot of peo­ple don’t have time to go to gal­leries, so this is an op­por­tu­nity for the art to come to peo­ple. It’s a plat­form for new au­di­ences; it’s an in­tro­duc­tion.’ Bruce Cooper, Clay­ton Utz Deputy Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Part­ner, has em­braced this op­por­tu­nity to make con­tem­po­rary art more ac­ces­si­ble

to staff and clients, tak­ing the ini­tia­tive to re­move Clay­ton Utz’s ex­ist­ing col­lec­tion to fa­cil­i­tate the project. ‘If you walked past a gallery and felt scared to go in, be­cause you didn’t know what to say, we can bring the gallery to you,’ he re­marks.

The project is a unique way of shar­ing art beyond the walls of public and com­mer­cial gal­leries. In this sense, the works are hu­man­ised – in­hab­it­ing an ev­ery­day work en­vi­ron­ment rather than be­ing en­throned in a tightly cu­rated white cube. ‘There’s a level of con­fi­dence in see­ing a work around a lounge, or around a cab­i­net, which you don’t get in gal­leries,’ re­marks Ger­manos, ‘but this project is not about com­pe­ti­tion to the gallery; it’s a col­lab­o­ra­tion. It sup­ports what they’re do­ing by of­fer­ing a new con­text and au­di­ence.’

Yet Clay­ton Utz’s Bligh Street premises aren’t a typ­i­cal ‘ev­ery­day work en­vi­ron­ment’. De­signed by Ger­man firm In­gen­hoven Ar­chi­tects and Aus­tralia’s Ar­chi­tec­tus, the high-rise build­ing – of which Clay­ton Utz oc­cu­pies most of the first fif­teen floors – is renowned for its con­tem­po­rary de­sign and in­ven­tive em­pha­sis on am­bi­ent light, with a sleek fit-out by Bates Smart. ‘It’s one of the most spectacular set­tings you’d see any­where in the coun­try,’ notes Ger­manos. Tim­ber de­tails soften the space, such as in the re­cep­tion where an un­du­lat­ing ceil­ing of wooden pan­els evokes a sky of rolling hills, while curv­ing walls ebb and flow like a tidal thor­ough­fare and glass of­fices en­sure an out­pour­ing of nat­u­ral light and views across the har­bour. It is, in­deed, easy for art to shine in this set­ting.

Cooper re­flects, ‘When Max said to me “stand here for a mo­ment and I’ll tell you the po­ten­tial for how this space can lend it­self to a dif­fer­ent treat­ment of art,” it was an eye opener. Sud­denly, we re­alised that we had an as­set here that we were un­der-util­is­ing, and this as­set was our space and our light.’

For each it­er­a­tion, Ger­manos stages the work of two artists at dif­fer­ent points in their ca­reer as in­di­vid­ual shows across the vary­ing lev­els of Clay­ton Utz. The ex­hi­bi­tions are opened with a launch event, cre­at­ing a wel­com­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for the arts and law com­mu­ni­ties to con­nect, and the firm also hosts artist talks and din­ners with staff and their fam­i­lies, alumni and clients. The gen­eros­ity ex­pressed from all in­volved in the Art Part­ner­ship is a spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence.

The in­au­gu­ral show in Septem­ber 2017 fea­tured a vi­brant spec­trum of paint­ings; thirty-seven by Wendy Sharpe and thirty by emerg­ing artist Clara Adolphs. In the of­fice re­cep­tion, au­di­ences were greeted with Sharpe’s paint­ing The Witches, an al­le­gor­i­cal al­lu­sion to the en­chantresses from Mac­beth that gar­nered at­ten­tion in 2015 af­ter it was deemed ‘in­ap­pro­pri­ate’ by Lib­eral MP Craig Kelly be­cause of its prom­i­nent fe­male but­tocks.

Even at Clay­ton Utz there was a ‘gen­tle com­plaint’, yet Cooper wel­comed this provoca­tive tenor. ‘My view was, “thanks for the feed­back, but we’re not go­ing to take it down. Don’t look at it if you don’t like it, but lots of peo­ple do like it, as do I.” What I like is the dif­fer­ent con­ver­sa­tions peo­ple will have.’ Although the bare bot­tom was in­cluded there was none­the­less ‘a lit­tle bit of cen­sor­ing,’ re­marks Cooper. ‘I don’t think we’re ready for frontals – but I think as we ma­ture, that sense of ‘are we be­ing too naughty’ will fall away, and we’ll get bolder.’

The pre­sen­ta­tion of Sharpe’s work sur­veyed the artist’s ca­reer, fill­ing Clay­ton Utz with a colour­ful tapestry of sub­jects. Sharpe re­calls, ‘The paint­ings in the ex­hi­bi­tion were mostly from my own col­lec­tion. There was a range of works – from a huge trip­tych at Re­cep­tion of Cir­cus Oz per­form­ers to a large paint­ing of women in a Syd­ney brothel and a self-por­trait in the Antarc­tic.’ For her, the part­ner­ship rep­re­sents a cross­roads of ex­hi­bi­tion strate­gies, for it is ‘nei­ther a com­mer­cial gallery nor a public art space,’ and yet it func­tions as both. For Sharpe’s gal­lerist Randi Lin­negar, the pre­sen­ta­tion ‘proved that beau­ti­ful works of art are at home in many sit­u­a­tions’.

Sharpe’s sen­sual and bois­ter­ous com­po­si­tions were like the ex­tro­verted older sis­ter to Adolphs’ sub­dued, semi-ab­stracted fig­ures, which adorned the walls of Level 14. Cre­ated specif­i­cally for the show,

Adolphs’ muted por­traits of nos­tal­gic fig­ures formed a sharp con­trast to Clay­ton Utz’s crisp, fo­cused in­te­ri­ors.

Some works fit­tingly fea­tured the trope of men in suits. ‘I did play with ideas of men a lit­tle more in this body of work,’ re­flects Adolphs, who also took part in a res­i­dency in the of­fice. She con­tin­ues, ‘It’s great to show work in an­other con­text out­side the gallery walls, es­pe­cially in times of such change within the art in­dus­try. My work is ex­posed to a new au­di­ences that may not other­wise come across it.’

Adolphs’ gal­lerist, Megan Dick of MiCK Fine Art, sees the project as a unique op­por­tu­nity for emerg­ing artists: ‘As Clara is a young artist who has only been ex­hibit­ing for five years, it’s an op­por­tu­nity to present her paint­ings to a large num­ber of peo­ple who are as yet un­aware of her work and are not likely to walk into a gallery to view it.’

The sec­ond in­stal­ment of the Art Part­ner­ship pairs the works of Syd­ney-based artists Ja­son Ben­jamin and Nick Coller­son. Af­ter a fouryear ab­sence from ex­hibit­ing at a com­mer­cial gallery in Syd­ney, Ben­jamin com­mends the project’s pro­mo­tion of in­creased vis­i­bil­ity and ex­po­sure along the nar­row road of art ex­hibit­ing. ‘Let’s face it, art needs all the help it can get. It just makes sense to have an­other plat­form for peo­ple who per­haps or­di­nar­ily wouldn’t go into a com­mer­cial gallery to see your work. I’ve al­ways wanted my work seen by the broad­est pos­si­ble spec­trum,’ he says.

When Cooper and Ger­manos in­tro­duced Ben­jamin to the space he im­me­di­ately re­sponded to it with a vi­sion for his ex­hi­bi­tion. He set about cre­at­ing new paint­ings, although there was no re­quire­ment to do so, pro­duc­ing a suite of del­i­cately re­fined still lifes and land­scapes. The works have been en­livened by the enig­matic new light and space of the build­ing, and like­wise the of­fice has been trans­formed. ‘I get ex­cited with each new ro­ta­tion,’ says Ger­manos, ‘it’s fas­ci­nat­ing how chang­ing the art also changes the feel or the mood of a space.’

The em­bod­ied ex­pe­ri­ence of view­ing art is more pro­nounced in the Clay­ton Utz of­fice as au­di­ences must phys­i­cally walk through the ex­pan­sive of­fices to con­sume the show. For Coller­son, this hatches a fer­tile space for con­tem­pla­tion. ‘Usu­ally in gal­leries it’s easy to see many of the works from a sin­gle spot, but with this show, be­cause the paint­ings are hung through­out the floors and in dif­fer­ent rooms, you have to walk to see all of the paint­ings. This is great for my works be­cause I con­sider the imag­i­na­tion of the viewer to be a vi­tal in­gre­di­ent in the paint­ings.’ In the space, Coller­son’s paint­ings are dif­fi­cult to re­sist. His fa­mil­iar sub­ject of the ev­ery­day ren­dered with painterly sen­si­tiv­ity re­minds us of the poetry of the mun­dane – that even a work­place can be a rich fount of in­spi­ra­tion and beauty if we re­cal­i­brate our vi­sion.

Of course, this kind of project needs to be sus­tain­able. For Clay­ton Utz, fill­ing its of­fices with a chang­ing ros­ter of con­tem­po­rary art sets it apart and helps to en­gage clients on a more hu­man level, cut­ting through the lin­ear­ity of ‘busi­ness’ con­ver­sa­tion.

Speak­ing frankly, Cooper re­flects, ‘When we’re try­ing to sell our ser­vices, it’s dif­fi­cult for us to dif­fer­en­ti­ate that we’re bet­ter than the next per­son – but what we can dif­fer­en­ti­ate is that we might be more like­able. The ul­ti­mate aim of this part­ner­ship is to en­gage with our clients in a way that pro­vokes con­ver­sa­tions out of the or­di­nary. In­stead of peo­ple com­ing into a board­room and talk­ing about the weather or the deal, we can now have new con­ver­sa­tions, be­cause ev­ery­one has dif­fer­ent views about art. I’ve been amazed at how many peo­ple in the busi­ness and gov­ern­ment com­mu­ni­ties un­der­stand art. For me, art is about hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion. It’s that abil­ity to en­gage.’

Ben­jamin re­it­er­ates this from an artist’s per­spec­tive, ‘The paint­ings hang to be seen and en­gaged with – it’s not a to­ken prize piece in the board­room.’

01 Wendy Sharpe, in­stal­la­tion view, Clay­ton Utz, 2018 02 Bruce Cooper (left) and Max Ger­manos

The part­ner­ship is, ac­cord­ing to Cooper, a ‘two-way street’, ben­e­fit­ting the artists and gal­leries as much as the firm. ‘If we’re en­joy­ing the art and us­ing it to en­gage clients, there has to be a sense that we’re go­ing to pro­mote those works in con­junc­tion with the gal­leries. Artists need to make a liv­ing.’ Each ex­hi­bi­tion doesn’t con­ceal its com­mer­cial­ism un­der the oft-used veil of ‘taste­ful­ness’; rather it con­spic­u­ously makes known that all works avail­able to pur­chase (in con­junc­tion with the artists’ gal­leries) in a well-de­signed cat­a­logue de­tail­ing each of the artist’s paint­ings. The de­ci­sion to in­clude price lists was ‘all about mak­ing it re­ally ac­ces­si­ble, be­cause if peo­ple are in­ter­ested, they’re go­ing to ask any­way, so why not be up­front and proud that ev­ery­thing here is for sale.’ In turn, Ger­manos and Cooper hope the part­ner­ship will nur­ture nascent col­lec­tors, giv­ing them an en­try point into the labyrinth of con­tem­po­rary Aus­tralian art. Although art and law are os­ten­si­bly worlds apart, for Cooper the Art Part­ner­ship fuses the two in an un­likely cre­ative union. ‘One of the rea­sons why I was so drawn to the part­ner­ship was the con­nec­tiv­ity be­tween lawyers, who ev­ery­body says don’t have a cre­ative side, and artists, who are icon­i­cally cre­ative. The great­est lawyers are not the ones who are lin­eal thinkers, who go straight for the so­lu­tions; the great­est lawyers are those who com­bine cre­ativ­ity with tech­ni­cal skill. I think that’s the essence of cre­ativ­ity – the avoid­ance of lin­ear­ity. If peo­ple cre­ate in a straight line then af­ter a while that’s not cre­ation any­more, it’s rep­e­ti­tion. Lawyers must be cre­ative. That’s why I see a cross­over be­tween artists and lawyers, which a lot of artists would say is mad­ness!’ Ul­ti­mately, the Art Part­ner­ship forges a fresh new au­di­ence for Aus­tralian artists, one that may not other­wise view ex­hib­ited art. ‘Even if you don’t like art, what we’ve cre­ated here is an op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple to not ig­nore art. You can’t leave a meet­ing room with­out see­ing a fas­ci­nat­ing Nick Coller­son work or walk through the re­cep­tion with­out pass­ing five stunning Ja­son Ben­jamin paint­ings. It’s all about liv­ing with art,’ sug­gests Ger­manos. He and Cooper see a firm fu­ture for this un­con­ven­tional project, which they are bring­ing to the Melbourne Clay­ton Utz of­fice in June 2018 with ex­hi­bi­tions by Jon Cat­ta­pan and Dane Lovett. The next Syd­ney it­er­a­tion will fea­ture the works of cel­e­brated artist Euan Ma­cleod and Vanessa Stockard. Cooper has high hopes for the part­ner­ship, ‘I want this to be a con­tin­u­ing thing, so that in twenty years’ time, an artist would say “I got my break be­cause I ex­hib­ited at Clay­ton”. That would be quite an ex­tra­or­di­nary con­cept.’

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