Friday, March 11, 2011

Hothouses of talent give galleries a run for the money, Joyce Morgan March 12, 2011

Making the transition ... the manager of Chalkhorse Gallery, Clementine Blackman, is overseeing the evolution of the art space from a collective into a gallery. Photo: Tamara Dean
SOME are in old warehouses and factories, others have no fixed address. They may last a year or two but at least one has survived for 25 years.At a time when debate rages about whether Sydney has lost its arts mojo, the number of artist-run spaces suggests that a shortage of creative ideas is not the problem.On the city fringes, especially in Redfern, Surry Hills and Marrickville, the number of small galleries/studios and performance spaces is growing.They are hothouses of talent, says Tamara Winikoff, the executive of the National Association for the Visual Arts.
Non-profit co-operatives are not new but they began to register on the radar of mainstream art lovers about five years ago.''They are now much more where you would go if you were an astute collector or writer or critic to find out what's going on in the field of contemporary arts practice. That's where it's all at,'' said Winikoff. ''The real energy in terms of contemporary practice is located very often in these ARIs [artist-run initiatives].''There are at least three dozen in the city, from Gaffa, in a heritage building behind the Queen Victoria Building, to First Draft in Chalmers Street, Surry Hills, which is believed to be the city's longest-running space.
Winikoff believed the growing awareness of such places is in part because art buyers are changing. ''Instead of the well-established, wealthy people around Paddington, Woollahra and the better-heeled suburbs, you are getting young people who just want to own contemporary art and be part of the contemporary art scene.''
The growing appeal of artist-run spaces has prompted the association to organise a national symposium on them later this year. ''We want to establish a national network and keep track of what is going, how they are evolving.''
In Surry Hills, Chalk Horse began as an artists' collective five years ago but is in the process of morphing into a commercial gallery. So far, it is the only such space in Sydney to do so. The transition began last year, its manager, Clementine Blackman, said. ''It was a natural progression for us. But it is much more common for ARIs to close down than become commercial galleries.''The gallery has built a stable of artists aged under 35 whose works are priced under $20,000. It continues to present pop-up fringe events - this month a man will spend a week in a coffin.It has retained its co-operative feel. ''Some of our artists will come in and help us hang a show or build a door,'' Blackman said. ''You wouldn't find that kind of love happening for a strictly commercial dealership.''

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