Today I am very excited to share the first installment of this two-part interview with Melbourne based art consultant and curator Sophie McNeur. When I first started thinking about doing a little research into commercial art in Melbourne for this site, Sophie immediately popped into my mind as the best person to talk to! Sophie started her career in the fine arts at Metro 5 Gallery in Melbourne – a gallery specialising in contemporary work, and with a reputation for supporting and representing emerging Australian artists. After three years here Sophie moved on to Gould Galleries (where she now works) – a very different gallery with a focus on highly respected established Australian artists. Gould exhibits works by Australia’s most important 19th and 20th century artists, as well as a select group of the country’s most dynamic contemporary and international artists.
Sophie’s responses to my questions were so fantastically detailed and carefully considered, so I thought it best to break up her interview in two parts. So, today is an introduction to Sophie, her career path and the ins and outs of working in a commercial gallery. Sophie shares her unique insight into the role of curator and consultant in the commercial art sector, and also shares with us some examples of work by her favourite collectible Australian artists. You can sense Sophie’s passion for Australian Art and for her work in every single response..! I feel very lucky to be able to share her expertise here. :)
But for those of you super keen to get started on your own personal art collection(!!), you’ll have to wait until Tomorrow, when I’ll post the second half of this interview. This will include Sophie’s valuable advice on researching and buying and original art in Melbourne, which galleries/events to attend to find reasonably-priced work by emerging artists, and Sophie’s shortlist of Australian artists to keep an eye on. – Thanks so much Sophie!
Tell me a little about your career background – what did you study and what path led you to what you’re doing now?
I completed a Masters in Art Curatorship at Melbourne University. My undergraduate qualification was an Arts Degree at Monash University, majoring in Psychology and Politics with History minor. I completed a Graduate Diploma in Fine Art, hoping to diversify from the fashion industry to the Arts. Art has always been my main area of interest.
A component of the masters was an internship in a cultural institution. I was introduced to a girl who was employed as a senior registrar at the National Gallery of Victoria. She accepted me as her volunteer and taught me computer based cataloguing systems for artworks.
Which galleries and artists have you been involved with?
Upon completion of the Masters Degree I commenced working for commercial arts business Metro 5 Gallery. I worked as an art consultant/curator with Metro 5 Gallery for three years. The position encompassed all aspects of a commercial gallery. Metro 5 Gallery specialised in contemporary art, and was very pro active in supporting emerging artists, offering an art prize and giving young artists a change to hold their first solo exhibition. I thoroughly enjoyed dealing with the general public, other art institutions and artists.
I love Australian art, both traditional and contemporary. Originality and an aesthetic component attract me to an artwork initially, but I am especially drawn to artworks which have either a political or social meaning.
I was interested in advising institutional, corporate, and private clients with regard to the formation, development and management of their art collections, so I commenced working for Gould Galleries, which is highly regarded for modern and contemporary art. The artists exhibited at Gould galleries are often the same artists being collected and exhibited in the public institutions. Gould Galleries has exhibited the finest quality works by Australia’s most important 19th and 20th century artists, as well as a select group of the country’s most dynamic contemporary and international artists.
Gould galleries enable me to work with paintings by my favourite Modern artists such as Albert Tucker whose work I adore, as well as Brisbane artist Scott Redford whose oeuvre is continually evolving. Contemporary artists are often multi-disciplinary their art practice encompassing painting, sculpture, site-specific installation, collage, photography and video.
Scott Redford’s work explores identity politics and popular culture revolving around his upbringing in Surfers Paradise (Queensland, Australia). Redford regularly incorporates aspects of his physical and cultural surroundings into his art practice and uses both traditional and improvised materials with wit and poignancy. Surfboards for example take on a new role and purpose when painted in fluorescent colours with images of generic Gold coast high-rises and palm trees. I guess in some ways Scott Redford’s work reminds me of my university job as a retail assistant at Melbourne ‘Surf Dive n’ Ski’.
Scott Redford – Surf Painting : The Higher Beings Command Paint Palm Trees Instead (2007)
resin and fibreglass over acrylic on foam with decal
Image above right
Scott Redford – proposal for a Surfer’s Paradise public sculpture: Hugh Jackman (2007)
painted laser cut acrylic
Point of Sale Display Item for the Honey Pump recording Skull Star
glazed ceramic, edition of 30
Another of my favourites, and luckily, a Gould Galleries artist, is Canberra based eX de Medici who work is beautiful and emotional with a strong social message. Melbourne artist Marc de Jong also comments on our consumer driven society.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
There is not really a typical day. It may involve visiting artists’ studios to learn about their work and select pieces for exhibitions. Evaluating art works that collectors wish to consign to the gallery, in cases authenticating and researching these. Selecting art from the storage facility to be displayed in the gallery spaces and working with curators at other museums to organise travelling exhibitions. Researching and Writing about art for catalogues, brochures, magazines, valuations or books, and helping corporations develop art collections.
A museum/art gallery curator acquires, cares for, develops, displays and interprets a collection of artefacts or works of art in order to inform, educate and entertain the public. The emphasis of the role in a commercial gallery moves away from a purely academic research function towards a broader-ranging career, which includes aspects such as: public relations; marketing; fundraising; education and access activities.
Art Fairs are a great opportunity for commercial galleries to work together to share expertise. When organising exhibitions for Art Fairs, curators need to publicise and market them appropriately to ensure they appeal to a wide cross-section of the general public, including overseas tourists.
I guess daily task revolve around a combination of:
cataloguing acquisitions and keeping records; researching and writing catalogues; planning, organising, interpreting and presenting exhibitions; caring for the collection; negotiating consignments and sales; handling enquiries from researchers and the public; giving presentations; talking to individuals and groups about exhibits; dealing with enquiries from a variety of clients; networking with other museum and art gallery professionals and outside agencies through meetings and collaborative projects.
Curators in a commercial gallery direct the acquisition, storage, and exhibition of artworks including negotiating and authorizing sales. They are also responsible for authenticating, evaluating, and categorizing the specimens in a collection. Curators help conduct the galleries research projects and related educational programs. Today, an increasing part of a curator’s duties involves fundraising and promotion, which may include the writing and reviewing of grant proposals, journal articles, and publicity materials such as magazine editorial, as well as attendance at conventions, and art fairs.
Curators working in large institutions may be highly specialised. Some curators maintain their collections, others do research, and others perform administrative tasks. In small commercial galleries a curator may be responsible for a number of tasks, from maintaining collections to directing the affairs of the gallery. In small commercial galleries curators manage, care for, preserve, treat, and document works of art, which may require substantial historical research. They use special lights, and other equipment to examine objects and determine their condition and the appropriate method for preserving them. If a work of art is not in a stable condition a curator will seek the expertise of a professional conservator to treat the item and minimise the deterioration or if possible to restore an artwork to its original state. Conservators usually specialize in a particular material or group of objects, such as documents and books, paintings, decorative arts, textiles, metals, or architectural material.
Curators need computer skills and the ability to work with electronic databases. Many curators are responsible for posting information on the Internet, so they also need to be familiar with digital imaging, and copyright law.
Curators must be flexible because of their wide variety of duties, among which are the design and presentation of exhibits. In small museums, curators also need manual dexterity to build exhibits or restore objects.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Being surrounded by such stimulating and inspiring art works make you feel so lucky and grateful for all the opportunities you’ve had and the experience you continue to have. I’m eagerly anticipating the Melbourne Art Fair 2008 where we will exhibit Scott Redford’s new work. This biannual fair is an opportunity to meet many knowledgeable curators, writers, artists and individuals interested in art that it is definitely a highlight.
And the worst?
and because Gould is a commercial gallery, many emerging artists approach us to sell their work. Gould is predominantly a secondary market business so we deal with only a handful of contemporary artists. Artists represented at Gould Galleries are already in the collections of Australia’s leading public institutions. Gould Galleries do not take emerging artists, as we would not adequately represent their work despite it often being of exceptional quality. Our clients are looking for artists with an existing reputation even if they are not widely known. Clients do look for new directions, and wish to be educated, but Gould is not the space for a first exhibition. Occasionally artists who apply for representation are offended when we say no to their work. The work may be fantastic, however not suited to our particular gallery. This happens usually when Gould Galleries are not well known to the applicant and they have not researched the gallery.
…Stay tuned for the second installment of Sophie’s interview tomorrow!