The Melbourne Review talked with Anna Pappas, recently elected President of the Australian Commercial Galleries Association, on the role of the association, the art market in Australia, and her newly curated Project 13: Jamais Vu, showing later this month in Prahran.
Before we discuss the upcoming Project 13, you have recently been appointed President of the ACGA. What needs to be done? What can the art world expect to see emerging from your presidency, in terms of the practical or indeed philosophical orientation of the ACGA?
AP: Let me say first of all that my presidency will be about sincere interest and inclusion. The ACGA has existed since 1975. Many things have changed since then but many have also stayed the same. It is a fact that galleries are the professional market makers for young artists. To my knowledge, no artist or group of artists have reached prominence without being assisted or represented by a gallery and no major museum or other public art event would be possible without the often unnoticed work that galleries put into their artists’ careers. When in search for accurate information, integrity and specialisation, dedication and expertise, and a guarantee of quality and provenance, the answer is always: a respectable gallery. So to start with, the artists, curators, buyers and collectors will be reminded of this more often, as it is ACGA’s manifesto to broaden public interest in the profession of galleries.
ACGA currently represents 54 Australian modern and contemporary galleries nationally and therefore has a responsibility to address their political interests by becoming very active in lobbying issues such as tax and super which can and has had detrimental consequences for many of them. By connecting, informing and negotiating best ways forward, the voice of 54 professional members carrying hundreds of Australian artists on their books can certainly make a bigger difference than a single voice. For this we also need the well informed and well educated new generation of gallery owners that are opening throughout the country. And making ACGA relevant to today’s savvy young market will also be a priority so we will start by creating a presence through various social media tools.
But it is not only the new generation that we must appeal to. The efforts of individuals who over the years have given so much of their time, knowledge and money to the arts needs to be acknowledged, and I will bring to the table discussions of Award of Excellence where appropriate.
Gallery professionals are hungry for information that is genuine and reliable and bringing in international and local experts to discuss issues that are common worldwide, would also be on the agenda.
How is the contemporary Australian art market faring?
AP: The market is beginning to strengthen after some challenging years, which in my opinion were caused by three primary reasons. Firstly, the global financial crisis! The Australian market, although still very young to be hugely effected by international trends, endured an effect which cannot be ignored. Art is at the top end of discretionary spend and when the economy is tight spending on art is affected. Fortunately, there are still some dedicated collectors.
Secondly, contemporary art is a difficult game at the best of times, and the more international the Australian market becomes the harder it will get for the local galleries and artists. International art fairs are great for our artists’ representation as they gain momentum and sales, but at the same time they abduct our collectors to their shores where the choices are greater. Local art fairs will need to become more international in order to make sense, however although few international collectors may visit our cities, it is more likely that international galleries will be the main arrivals.
Thirdly, and probably the one with the greatest impact, is the government’s stricter rules put in place since the Cooper review (SMSF regulation), with an immediate effect on artists, galleries and collectors. The government, in trying to solve a perceived problem, created a real one.
However, I am excited about the future. Economies always improve; Australian art is becoming the envy of the global art scene and ACGA wants to become a main force in influencing future government decisions.
Are the newly affluent Asian middle classes resulting in further exhibition opportunities abroad? You have recently been in Singapore, for example…
AP: Singapore to me is not a new Asian middle class market. I exhibit in the Art Stage Singapore because of its many synergies with Australia – the geographical location, the language, the level of service and its world class facilities. It is an easier Asian market to engage with and the psychic distance is closer than others. Affluent Asian middle classes of China and India and other Middle Eastern countries are much harder to penetrate and it will take time, dedication and a lot of money.
Are Australian gallerists embracing these new opportunities?
AP: In the past few years Australian galleries have participated in art fairs from Dubai, Germany, Denmark, LA, India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Korea, to New York, Basel, and Miami, just to mention some. They are forging the way to international markets and it has been noted.
How is a young generation of very social media savvy people to be enticed into the gallery experience?
AP: The young generation has been very fortunate to have been educated about art, and art education is gaining momentum every year. It is much easier for this generation to enter a gallery, or be engaged in a discussion about art than it was for previous generations. Also the stigma of elitism regarding the arts has almost disappeared. Melbourne is blessed with so many good galleries opening their doors almost every night of week. How lucky… to have all that information on their iPhone or iPad.
How can they afford art? Should it be seen as part of a long-term investment?
AP: Choose with your heart not your head; buy only what you can afford and buy often. If in doubt get close to galleries you like and trust and ask questions. If you are interested in long-term investment buy property.
Project 13 comes as a continuation of a series. How and where is there a progression, or is that not what one should be looking for?
AP: Project 13 is a continuation of projects we have started with every year since 2006. It is mainly based on artists not represented by Anna Pappas Gallery, it usually has a theme and it offers artists an opportunity to be part of a group show in Melbourne. It is something I love doing every year and plays an important part of my annual program. It also gives me the opportunity to engage professionally with artists that are represented by other galleries or with interstate or international artists that I would not otherwise have had the pleasure working with. Sometimes I also include young or emerging curators and writers. The exhibitions have no age, medium, race or anything else as a prerequisite.
How was the concept of “jamais vu” arrived at, and how does it resonate in contemporary contexts?
AP: Having had the experience of jamais vu myself, either through stress or through an uncomfortable working environment, I thought it would make a perfect statement for what seems to me a rather interesting but common phenomenon. Below is the official explanation:
“In psychology, jamais vu is the phenomenon of experiencing a situation that one recognizes somehow, but that nonetheless seems very unfamiliar. Often described as the opposite of déjà vu, jamais vu involves a sense of eeriness and the observer’s impression of seeing the situation for the first time, despite rationally knowing that he or she has been in the situation before. Jamais vu is also explained as when a person momentarily does not recognise a word, person, or place that he or she already knows. The tip of the tongue syndrome.”
A person in a state where there is too little connection between long-term memory and perceptions from the present, and nothing they experience seems to have anything to do with the past seemed like a logical art concept. Everything seems new, details previously ignored suddenly become engaging, there is no sense of relations to anyone or from anyone… It can be refreshing, liberating and magical but also terribly overwhelming since the information that is received is free from ties and stored memories. To me that is what art is about.
How are the artists addressing the concept of jamais vu?
AP: From the delicate photo-collages by Marc Standing, detailed blurry paintings of Stephen Giblett, and Cameron Robbins’ kinetic drawing whiteboard, to the repetitive TV vignettes in Heath Franco’s and 1975 provocative Devos’ videos, they all have grasped the concept with such easiness, honesty and direct response. To try to get deeper into explanations could only harm the concept and the show. I encourage all to visit.
Does anything resembling logic exist in what seems to be a random, intangible, even metaphysical range of experiences?
AP: As per the statement of the exhibition, artists were invited to consider this exact condition of mind and how it may affected their work. Was there a moment when it happened? Did the drugs kick in at a party or is it the state one inhabits quite naturally? Is their work a reflection of the condition, or does their temperament reject it entirely? Does the act of repeating a work or replicating a gesture of production change the meaning of their art? And, if we follow the course of its logic, is Jamais Vu the key to a possible future we are yet to even imagine?
Sincerity continues, a love and hatred for humanity, the psychological betterment on community, a fashion runway mishap, control and lack thereof, strewn clothes, support and the parasitical, fist of the north star, noble static, roses, written confirmation, the destruction of gods, a project within a poetic flow of abstruseness, colours play, solar flare, decoration and the commissionary, corn flakes and plaster, the relationships and conversations in making, and looking at art, complications, thinking, pondering, taking time, the benefit of the doubt, un making work, twitter, another you, wilting gerbera, stolen glances, hot romance, bamboo in a cup, polysynthesis, intentional misspelling is all intentional no need to change any misspelled words, rocks caught in straws, lack luster finish, credible arrogance. (Christopher L G Hill, Melbourne 2013)
Project 13: Jamais Vu curated by Anna Pappas, shows at Anna Pappas Gallery, 2-4 Carlton St, Prahran, from February 12 to March 2.
Clare Rae, Untitled, 2012 archival pigment print 60 x 70 cm.
Stephen Giblett, Panic (detail), 2012, oil on linen, 163 x 200cm.
Marc Standing, The Enfolding 6, 2012, mixed media on archival rag paper, 15 x 20cm.
Ernesto Rios, Pyramid 1, 2012, Acrylic on canvas, 85 x 85cm.