Talk­ing point

VOGUE Living Australia - - VLIVING - an­naschwartz­ @an­naschwartz­gallery den­ton­cork­er­mar­ @den­ton­cork­er­mar­shall

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to think too much about how oth­ers SEE you. What’s to be achieved by that? Noth­ing” ANNA SCHWARTZ

What you see is what you get with Anna Schwartz, the in­de­fati­ga­ble Mel­bourne gal­lerist who holis­ti­cally in­hab­its the here and now of her contemporary art hold­ings. She is di­rect, dresses al­most ex­clu­sively in the con­cep­tual cre­ativ­ity of Junya Watan­abe, de­rides murky nos­tal­gia — “the story of my jour­ney to art has so of­ten been told” — and doesn’t like to self-de­scribe but does love the rigour of Den­ton Corker Mar­shall (DCM), the ar­chi­tects of both her home in the in­ner sub­urb of Carlton and her Flin­ders Lane head­quar­ters.

“I just do what I want to do,” she says, dis­miss­ing all hack­neyed de­scrip­tions of her as a func­tion of the gallery do­main. “I think it is a good idea to live an in­tro­spec­tive life and to ex­am­ine your ideas; I don’t think it’s a good idea to think too much about how oth­ers see you. What’s to be achieved by that? Noth­ing.”

In an art world sod­den with hype, such re­sponse is re­fresh­ing but re­veals lit­tle of the in­stincts and im­pulses that for three decades have sus­tained Schwartz’s position at the top of Aus­tralia’s volatile contemporary arts pyre. She is every bit the enigma out­side art world cir­cles; Schwartz and her pub­lisher hus­band, Morry, ti­tan of qual­ity pe­ri­od­i­cals (The Monthly, The Satur­day Pa­per, Quar­terly Es­say and more), are in­scrutably fam­ily-fo­cused. But those in­vited into the sculpted folds of their home, an old bak­ery cooked into Bondvil­lain lair by Bar­rie Mar­shall and John Den­ton of DCM, know that be­hind closed doors, the so-called power cou­ple mol­lify into an en­dear­ingly homey pair, al­beit one who could pass as per­for­mance artists, fully present in their own ex­hibit. On this par­tic­u­lar Mon­day at mid­day, Anna, a bub­bling con­fec­tion of curls and Commes des Garçons, preps a bowl of chicken soup in a zinc-clad kitchen that fun­nels to a wide prosce­nium of zinc stair. At the far end of this gal­ley space, a long ‘cityscape’ of mul­ti­scaled cab­i­nets, Morry waits for his ‘Jewish peni­cillin’, perch­ing pa­tiently at a bench that can­tilevers sig­na­ture DCM blade into a liv­ing space set with a like ‘town plan­ning’ of pieces.

In this mutely de­tailed open room, ex­pan­sively scaled for the arty party — Anna fa­mously hosts her artists at an in­dul­gent end-of-year bash — colour shouts with a blocked vi­brancy from Gae­tano Pesce’s La Michetta sofa and glows from the neon on­tol­ogy cre­ated by the grandee of con­cep­tu­al­ism, Joseph Ko­suth. His wall-hung in­stal­la­tion #1149. (On Color/Multi #3) (1991) il­lu­mi­nates an in­ter­ro­ga­tion into the na­ture of be­ing that re­ver­ber­ates in the wider DCM ar­chi­tec­ture. Lim­it­ing their house com­mis­sions to few (and lever­ag­ing them for the pro­to­typ­ing of idea), the ar­chi­tects have vis­i­bly weighed in to the ‘why’ of Ko­suth’s ques­tion­ing and not the hoary old ‘how’ that fizzes up much contemporary Mel­bourne prac­tice. They have meshed old in­dus­try with new in­te­rior in a stealth-bomber bulk that piv­ots, in dis­crete part, to pro­vide ac­cess to pri­vate ar­eas and a gar­den given float­ing plat­forms and plane trees by Tract Con­sul­tants. DCM’s sly sub­ver­sion of pre­dictabil­ity presents in the ceil­ing plane. Ter­mi­nally ne­glected by de­sign, it punc­tu­ates spa­tial con­tent in the up­stairs li­brary with a lin­ear pat­tern­ing of pro­ject­ing flu­o­res­cents, and spikes with ran­dom chaos on the ground floor above the prick­ling com­men­tary of Emily Floyd’s text piece, A Strat­egy to In­fil­trate the Homes of the Bour­geoisie (2003). For the pow­er­ful es­sen­tial­ism of their ex­e­cu­tion, DCM re­ceived a na­tional ar­chi­tec­ture award from the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects in 2011.

“It’s all about the artists,” says Anna of this mo­ment to pro­mote her starry sta­ble. It is a co­hort of stay­ers and new play­ers whose wide-rang­ing prac­tices push the propo­si­tion of what art can be, as per artist Mike Parr’s re­cent three-day burial alive un­der a Ho­bart road as part of Tas­ma­nia’s Dark Mofo sol­stice fes­ti­val. “I just have around me what I be­lieve in and like, but I do con­sider it my re­spon­si­bil­ity to make the work and ideas ac­ces­si­ble to peo­ple — to give them a path­way to its mean­ing and fi­nal en­joy­ment.” While that path­way to plea­sure may be a decade-long slow dance with col­lec­tors hos­tile to the prospect of hav­ing gi­ant balls of heat-gunned plas­tic lolling about their liv­ing rooms — à la Mikala Dwyer’s game of giv­ing shape to thought in the Schwartzes’ en­try sa­lon — Anna will ul­ti­mately have them em­brac­ing its ma­te­ri­al­ist position and espous­ing its mean­ing with pride. Great artists can turn the tide of taste in their di­rec­tion, but great gal­lerists can shift the wa­ters of per­cep­tion, and this is the in­tan­gi­ble pres­tige of Anna. She brings the at­ti­tude, the ar­chi­tec­ture, the near-re­li­gious act of faith in her artis­tic flock and the un­quan­tifi­able aura that adds value to art. “But the gallery is not a shop,” she says, quash­ing any sug­ges­tion that value equates to money. “It is an in­sti­tu­tion that is open to the pub­lic. Of the thou­sands that come through every ex­hi­bi­tion, maybe four will buy some­thing. The truth is that the pur­chase of a ma­jor work en­ables the gallery to stay open.” So what ad­mits an artist into her aura? “I’m not look­ing for any­thing par­tic­u­lar; there is no for­mula,” she says. “All gal­lerists are aware of their spe­cific cul­tural do­main and will se­lect artists in terms of a lan­guage and their cul­tural mix. I am in­ter­ested in the ones who are chart­ing new ter­ri­tory and think­ing in new ways — but in the end, it’s all just in­stinct, and you can choose to an­a­lyse what that is or not.” Guess­ing that it is equal parts ex­pe­ri­ence, in­cli­na­tion, knowl­edge and ter­ror, Anna short­hands the equa­tion to “a light­ning strike” — a ver­i­ta­ble bolt out of the blue that rips through the ether with an in­de­ter­mi­nate ran­dom­ness. But all in­sin­u­a­tion of chance aside, this storm-weath­ered gal­lerist pre­sides over a field of flash­ing lu­mi­nar­ies who de­bunk the myth that light­ning never strikes twice.

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