Lion, Jonathan Campbell, 2018, bronze.

Deal with it: The Great Auckland Art Dealer Questionnaire

It’s Auckland Artweek (12-20 October) and we’re doing our bit by shining a light on the people behind the city’s commercial galleries.

Welcome to The Spinoff Art’s inaugural Art Dealer Questionnaire: an insight into the lives of the people who represent the interests and work of our artists. As the answers below reveal, they can’t be lumped under the same stereotype – heck, they can’t even agree on their job title. And we love them for it! Here are the art-loving people who run seven of the 25 or more dealer galleries in Auckland city. Go pay them a visit.

The Kiss 2 – Michael Corleone and Apollonia on their wedding night, Toby Raine, 2019, oil on linen. Gow Langsford Gallery.

Anna Jackson, Gow Langsford Gallery

What have you got on during Artweek? 

Solo presentations by our most recent additions to the gallery stable: Toby Raine and Hugo Koha Lindsay.  

How do you describe your job on a flight arrival card? 

Manager, sometimes Director.

Parlour game: list your first five jobs.

Central Leader paper run. Fruit World. Baron of Beef. Customer Service Representative, inbound call centre. Compliance Officer for a boiler room (go figure).

What do you think is the biggest misconception about being an art dealer? 

The “glamour”. Yes there is champagne and there are fancy events but we work hard to make it look effortless. We don’t get bored just waiting for visitors, there’s a lot of packing and schlepping, and more grunt work than you would believe.

Sales: in person, in the gallery, online or in other spaces? 

Increasingly a collector will see a work digitally before they view it at the gallery but it’s still only a small percentage of collectors that buy without having seen the work personally. That said, and perhaps surprisingly, some of our highest value sales have been online. In each case the buyer has known the artist’s work well and presumably seen comparable works’ elsewhere. In the past five years art fairs have become important events in our calendar. As well as attracting larger audiences than we would ever see in the gallery they are financially significant.

We are also hosting more offsite events and pop up exhibitions than ever before. Open artist studios are some of our most attended and popular events.

Five or fewer things you typically get asked by the public walking in off the street?

Is this a gallery? Can we take photos? Questions relating to street parking. Is this the Auckland Art Gallery? Did you paint these?

Describe a standout interaction you’ve had with someone who walked into the gallery. 

At two recent art fairs, we have had collectors previously not known to us commit to a half a million dollar works in a matter of minutes. Neither negotiated on price nor returned for a ‘second look’. (Wouldn’t that be nice?)

Other standouts are artists adamant that we ought to show their works. They have often conveniently brought said works with them (cue unloading car boot) and they often have the strange propensity to leave them behind after they have been politely declined.

Has the role of openings changed over time in the life of your gallery? 

In the early 2000s openings were a celebration and ‘to-be-seen-at’ events. The days of ‘yellow press’ social page photographers at art events are over. Sales regularly happened on the night. Now we tend to sell works in the days leading up to the exhibition and the opening is more of a formality.

To be an art dealer you need…

White gloves: for artworks and egos.

What does Artweek do for the Auckland art scene? 

Artweek brings the community together. Galleries rarely collaborate in Auckland so the Artweek events are a great opportunity for visitors to experience a lot of art in one place. We have found the late night events to be well attended. 

An image by Hany Armanious, from the exhibition O Week at the Michael Lett Gallery

Andrew Thomas, Michael Lett Gallery

What have you got on during Artweek? 

An exhibition of work by Hany Armanious, but we’re not officially participating in Artweek’s programme.

How do you describe your job on a flight arrival card? 

It varies, but that question often causes pause for thought. 

Parlour game: list your first five jobs.

As a student you do what you’ve got to do – none of that was particularly interesting. The first job that mattered to me was working for (Wellington gallerist) Hamish McKay, and I will be forever grateful – he opened my eyes and taught me so much. 

What do you think is the biggest misconception about being an art dealer? 

I was on the phone to my colleague in Sydney and I asked him this, because I don’t really know what the misconceptions are. He said, “I don’t know, do people think it’s glamorous?” We laughed, knowing that mostly it’s not. But then I said, “we were just having a conversation about not being able to get a box at the Grand Prix because it clashes with flying to Hong Kong for the art fair.” We acknowledged that there are occupations with less glamorous problems than this.

Sales: in person, in the gallery, online or in other spaces?

Thankfully it’s a healthy combination of all of these things. 

Five or fewer things you typically get asked by the public walking in off the street?

What did this building used to be? Do the dogs get along ok? (there are two dogs in the office.) Can you explain this work to me? 

Describe a standout interaction you’ve had with someone who walked into the gallery. 

We meet lots of interesting people but when Peter Thiel unexpectedly came in to see Simon Denny’s exhibition it was an interaction that was either going to be really good, or really bad. I can’t think of another time when someone who walked into the gallery has had to confront their own image and perceived set of values so directly within the work. His visit and reaction to the show added something to both the content and mythology of the exhibition.

Has the role of openings changed over time in the life of your gallery? 

I don’t think so, no. Openings have always been about the artists, their work, and about providing a nexus for the wider community that surrounds the gallery. 

To be an art dealer you need… 

Artists, they are the most fundamental thing to what we do.

What does Artweek do for the Auckland art scene? 

It facilitates a certain kind of engagement with the visual arts.

Monsieur Philemon Toleafoa, Edith Amituanai, 2007, sold by the Anna Miles Gallery

Anna Miles, Anna Miles Gallery

What have you got on during Artweek? 

Barbara Tuck’s immersive new paintings, The Undoing, will be in their last week at the gallery. I will be in Christchurch taking an exhibition Suitcase to Caroline Billing’s gallery, The National, opening Tuesday 15 October. Caroline comes here with Suitcase Part II on Sunday 20 October which will highlight some of the extraordinary contemporary jewellers and object-makers she works with. Caroline and I ‘swapped’ galleries for the first time in 2017 and this is the latest instalment.

How do you describe your job on a flight arrival card?

Art Dealer

Parlour game: list your first five jobs.

Gallery Assistant, Sue Crockford Gallery. Studio Assistant, Richard Killeen. Cake Baker, Auckland Art Gallery Café. Library Assistant, Auckland District Law Society Library. Security Guard, City Gallery Wellington — fired when a family lay down on a Derrick Cherrie bed in the exhibition, but later redeployed upstairs to write press releases.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about being an art dealer? 

We’re in it for the money.

Sales: in person, in the gallery, online or in other spaces? 

Space of any kind is just a place for making connections. Perhaps the acres of digital space we traverse make us more appreciative of encounters with art and people of the real kind.

Five or fewer things you typically get asked by the public walking in off the street?

You are hard to find. Is this all your work? Do you live here?

Describe a standout interaction you’ve had with someone who walked into the gallery.

One day in 2015 a collector called in to see Edith Amituanai’s Dejeuner photographs. I got them in from storage where they had been since they had first shown at the Walters Prize almost eight years earlier. The works were in the hall, fully wrapped. Finally I pulled back the bubble encasing Monsieur Philemon Toleafoa and we nearly gasped in unison. Philemon soaked in sweat silhouetted against the pinkening sky in a field in far off France was electric. Nothing needed to be said. After waiting years I knew Edith’s amazing work had found a home.

To be an art dealer you need…

Conviction. If you don’t believe in it you won’t survive. I don’t think art dealers are a breed, the interesting thing is everyone approaches it on their own independent terms. I love working with artists and those engaged in the underrated creative activity of appreciation, but what sustains me is the art — the way the artist opens up spaces in the culture that were never there before.

What does Artweek do for the Auckland art scene? 

The best thing it could do is to take people through the doors of often hard to find places for the first time. Auckland, particularly the Karangahape Rd ridge, is home to a thrilling concentration of artist-run spaces, dealer galleries, university galleries, major and not so major public art galleries and community art spaces. Thet don’t just exist at Artweek but every day of the year. Regardless of how big or small or far-flung galleries are, if they are any good they are really interested in people walking in their door.

Falling through Space 3, Trevor Newman, Acrylic on canvas and wood. Antoinette Godkin Gallery

Antoinette Godkin, Antoinette Godkin Gallery

What have you got on during Artweek? 

Painting is not just a surface thing. Trevor Newman rethinks abstraction with an emphasis on working space. Burnt Offerings is an exploration of pictorial space that interacts with the viewer. It is not the space the viewer inhabits daily but a space created by art, which alludes to the feeling that art is more than daily existence. The viewer is asked what constitutes a painting, what is installation? They see the world through both a vertical and horizontal perspective that reflects our busy lives of distraction.

How do you describe your job on a flight arrival card?

Gallery director (I never use the word ‘dealer’)

Parlour game: list your first five jobs.

Axiom Gallery, London. Nigel Greenwood Gallery, London. Felicity Samuel Gallery, London. Knoedler Kasmin Gallery, London. Fischer Fine Arts, London.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about being an art dealer? 

That we all live in the land of ‘milk and honey’, which we don’t, when of course we are raising the cultural environment of the country in nurturing our artists. Hopefully they go on to represent our era in history.
Sales: in person, in the gallery, online or in other spaces? In person, on site.

Five or fewer things you typically get asked by the public walking in off the street?

Hello and is there a list of works available.

Describe a standout interaction you’ve had with someone who walked into the gallery.

Hello, it’s me Charles. “Beautiful exhibition!” I would like to purchase the Larry Bell Glass Cube. What else is in your stock room?

Has the role of openings changed over time in the life of your gallery?

Totally. Less clients, museums, institutions etc… more artist’s mates. They are much more informal now and have sadly lost their meaning of “preview”.

To be an art dealer you need… 

A bloody good eye and solid experience.

What does Artweek do for the Auckland art scene? 

Energizes it!

Melanie Rodger in her gallery (supplied)

Melanie Roger, Melanie Roger Gallery

What have you got on during Artweek? 

A lot! We are part of a pop-up initiative at The Sapphire Room, Ponsonby Central. Showing a selection of works from our stock room. Four days, four galleries, around forty artists.

We have the last day of Stanley Palmer’s exhibition Chart of Aotearoa II Saturday 12th October.  Stanley will also be giving an artist talk at 11am that day. Claudia Jowitt’s new exhibition opens at the gallery on Tuesday evening. 

We will be open Thursday night 6-8pm as part of the Karangahape Rd Open Late night – with guided tours. And Claudia Jowitt will give an artist talk at the gallery Saturday 19 October at 11am.

How do you describe your job on a flight arrival card?

Gallerist.

Parlour game: list your first five jobs.

Delicatessen Assistant in Greenwoods Corner – the cook used to throw knives at me. Shop Assistant, Sassoon Clothing – makers of chewing gum jeans. Banquet waitstaff at the Sheraton Hotel – the perfect university job. Café staff at Firello Rossi. Waiter at Ajo Restaurant. All while at school or university.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about being an art dealer? 

That it’s easy and that we make money. It’s not and many of us don’t.

Sales: in person, in the gallery, online or in other spaces? 

A combination of sales at the gallery or online as a result of either our website or social media presence – Instagram and Facebook. 

Five or less things you typically get asked by the public walking in off the street?

Where can we park? (We have limited parking behind the gallery by arrangement. Just call us.) Why don’t you put red dots next to the works? (Because it detracts from the viewing of the work.) Is the building site next door disruptive? (Yes.) Are the roadworks disruptive? (Not yet, but they likely will be at some point.)

Has the role of openings changed over time in the life of your gallery? 

Openings used to work more as client previews, but most serious buyers visit prior to secure works these days. Openings tend to be more of a celebration of the work and the artist with friends and family these days.

To be an art dealer you need… 

Resilience!

What does Artweek do for the Auckland art scene? 

Gets a wide range of people through the doors. During Artweek I am constantly surprised at the amount of people who think we are a pop-up space specifically for the week. We spend a lot of time explaining that art is every week – that we are always here – that we always have something exciting on – and that they are always welcome!

Lion, Jonathan Campbell, 2018, bronze. Orex Art Gallery.

Rex Armstrong, Orex Art

What have you got on during Artweek? 

Found, discovered, unearthed, reimagined, provisional, all the works in this show have started out as one thing and became another. Perhaps they could be called provisional, or on the way to becoming something else, or perhaps they have arrived, complete now that they are being shown. We shouldn’t fear the incomplete, or the provisional, they are captured moments.

How do you describe your job on a flight arrival card? 

Manager (incomplete)

Parlour game: list your first five jobs.

Paper delivery boy. Milk delivery boy. Vegetable delivery boy. Grocery delivery boy. Dog’s body boy.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about being an art dealer? 

That you’re a delivery man, not a delivery boy.

Sales: in person, in the gallery, online or in other spaces? 

In the gallery or while I’m delivering.

Five or fewer things you typically get asked by the public walking in off the street?

Do I have to pay to look? Is this all your own art? What do you actually do? How do you make money? Do you deliver? 

Describe a standout interaction you’ve had with someone who walked into the gallery. 

Didn’t you use to deliver papers in my street?

Have the role of openings changed over time in the life of your gallery? 

Less is drunk, more is sold. Or is that the other way round?

To be an art dealer you need… 

Tireless reasons for living.

What does Artweek do for the Auckland art scene? 

Encourages the living to get out and see what life is all about. Captured moments that start out as one thing and become another. 

Simon Bowerbank and Ricky at Bowerbank Ninnow

Simon Bowerbank, Bowerbank Ninow

Describe what you have on during Artweek? 

We have two exhibitions running at the same time. One is a show of Simon Ingram’s painting machine works titled Beyond Range, derived from artificial intelligence-generated imagery. The other is a show of Ry David Bradley’s digitally-designed tapestries titled Level 9, which deals with ideas around the gamification of reality.

How do you describe your job on a flight arrival card? 

Gallery Director. It’s harder in social situations when I meet new people who ask what I do for a job. My partner often gets very annoyed when I answer, “I don’t really know…”’

Parlour game: list your first five jobs.

I only have four! Projectionist at Rialto Cinema, Gallery Manager at Ivan Anthony Gallery, Fine Art Specialist at Webb’s, Director at Bowerbank Ninow.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about being an art dealer? 

I think often art dealers have the most misconceptions about being an art dealer. 

Sales: in person, in the gallery, online or in other spaces? 

Most of it happens online, via email or increasingly on social media, although we do also make sales in person. Usually, it’s a combination of things — people will come to an opening and email us later asking for a list of works, or we will contact collectors who we know are interested in a particular artist directly.

Five or fewer things you typically get asked by the public walking in off the street?

When we were on K Road: is this a bank? Why isn’t this a bank? But it says ‘bank’ on the sign! What’s going to be in this space? Are you the artist?

Since moving to Lorne Street, people seem to have a better idea of what we’re about.

Describe a standout interaction you’ve had with someone who walked into the gallery. 

My most memorable interaction was actually at the Auckland Art Fair, where I converted a random member of the public from saying “this isn’t art, my child could do this,” to jumping in an Uber to attend an artist talk back at our gallery, and being a repeat collector of quite difficult contemporary art.

Has the role of openings changed over time in the life of your gallery? 

No, not really. Openings are an institution at this point, they’ve been pretty much the same for as long as I’ve been in the art industry.

To be an art dealer you need… 

To be a good art dealer, you need to be able to spot potential in artists that other people might not be able to see and to know how to commodify that potential, without compromising the artist’s practice. Conversely, you also need to be able to see through the narratives that are built around less talented artists and have the conviction to not take all opportunities that are presented to you, even if it is at the expense of short-term financial success.

What does Artweek do for the Auckland art scene? 

You tell me.

Trish Clark, Trish Clark Gallery

What have you got on during Artweek? 

Eemyun Kang This path is Made by Walking is the artist’s first solo exhibition in Australasia; a primer for an audience not familiar with her rich, varied, painterly explorations of life, shown in prestigious galleries in London, New York and Seoul.

How do you describe your job on a flight arrival card? 

Art gallery owner.

Parlour game: list your first five jobs.

First paid job at 12: general rouseabout at Crown Lynn, including smashing skips full of rejects; 14-17: chocolate factory assembly line, weekend manager of dairy/ ice-cream parlour; university jobs: free meals included at waitressing and kitchen-hand jobs at both ends of the day; post-studies: develop Federal pilot programme for Adult Aboriginal Education in Far North Queensland, and after that was the first woman to demand and be paid equal wages on prawn-fishing boat in the Gulf of Carpentaria; first self-employment in the arts: 1980 leading to High Street gallery opening in 1984. 

What do you think is the biggest misconception about being an art dealer? 

Haha! That it’s glamorous, easy and short-term focused – stick a few paintings on the wall every now and then, drink and talk, and rake in big dough!

Sales: in person, in the gallery, online or in other spaces?

Almost all the business happens in person, in a variety of settings and countries.

Five or fewer things you typically get asked by the public walking in off the street?

Can I come in? Is it free? Can I take a photo? Are these your artworks? 

Describe a standout interaction you’ve had with someone who walked into the gallery. 

Had just opened in Bowen Avenue, a guy came in on his way to the Pullman – he wanted to buy three John Edgars, said he’d go down the hill for cash, I thought “Yeah right, we’ll never see him again” and promptly googled to find that he was a significant collector and patron who did indeed return with cash. I ended up hand-delivering the works to one of the most civilised men I’ve ever met.

Have the role of openings changed over time in the life of your gallery? 

Yes and no – often mixed dread and pleasure for the artist, while I’m relaxed (sales always tend to happen before and after openings, with a few exceptions).

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To be an art dealer you need…. 

There’s a huge difference between being an art dealer and being a good art dealer, who needs clear vision, integrity, an organised mind and computer, thick skin, deep patience, and huge empathy – as well as sound business instincts and practises.

What does Artweek do for the Auckland art scene? 

Not sure! Maybe adds focus amidst all the distractions of busy lives.



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