A dose of art culture

By Rhonda Dredge

There are still opportunities to experience art in the CBD as local galleries continue to trade, but at a distance.

Gone are the days of exuberant openings and on-the-spot purchases.

Collectors are being more conservative, says Geoff Newton, director of Neon Parc.

As the city’s most intimate gallery, Neon Parc – in Mcilwraith Place off Bourke St – is open by appointment. 

The current exhibition is online, but nothing really beats mounting the stairs and experiencing the garage of lively water colours by James Lynch in person.

The depictions of hammers, ladders and everyday things, might be only too familiar to those stuck at home. 

As the barriers between home and professional life break down, gallerists are being forced to find new ways of reaching those who are addicted to their weekly dose of art culture.

Flinders Lane Gallery has re-launched an interactive online program to help clients visualise their living rooms with a range of works selected from their stock room.

“I’ve been trying to think of ways that I can brighten your life while you are also confined to your home,” director Claire Harris told clients by email. “It’s really exciting to see how artworks sit in different spaces.” 

The program has been used by the gallery for 12 years and it’s quite nifty, but do innovative marketing ideas and a proactive online presence increase confidence or wellbeing when you are forced to work remotely?

Claire spent Easter working at her CBD home. “Domestic chores are not my friend,” she said. “But fortunately, I have a modest home that doesn’t require too much upkeep.” 

“The best thing that happened over Easter was hanging out with my son and creating some very bad music on Garage Band together then making sticky date pudding for my birthday cake and watching Blade Runner again.”

It’s a welcome change for gallerists to come out of their artistic shells to show that they, too, are human. 

Murray White, whose eponymous gallery in Exhibition St has been such a prominent feature of the artistic landscape in the city, has been working from home for longer than most.

He was already working from his place in Richmond when the art world locked down and, therefore, is one of the lucky few not struggling with city rents and overheads. 

The lease for his gallery came to an end last year and he’s been negotiating for a new place while still trading from a CBD post office address.

“A month ago, today my inbox said it all,” Murrary said. He received a host of cancellations for art fairs and events but he’s keen to assure the buying public that the art world will return. 

“The major art events are being postponed not cancelled,” he said.

Murray is spending the downtime promoting an artists’ book by Tony Clark and Lyndal Walker, which he launched at Neon Parc in December. 

Ephemerality is All Very Well is a memento mori dedicated to memories of the late punk rocker Roland S Howard, a member of Nick Cave’s band The Birthday Party.

It’s a moving tribute, not in biographical form, but is strictly personal in the way good art might need to be in this COVID-19 era.

As CBD art personalities adjust to the collapse of the art market, some are skeptical about the claim that a proactive online presence might save the day. 

“I think everyone’s scrabbling for the same chunk of online landscape,” Geoff Newton said. 

“Everyone is having trouble producing the engaging, sexy content that collectors want to see.”

Collectors are being more conservative, he said, and business is pretty tough.

“Sit tight,” he advised art investors. “It’s like the last financial crisis. Support your local, independent, private galleries.” •

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