Aboriginal Art Directory doesn’t often touch on the commercial gallery scene “ such a competitive and occasionally ‘sensitive’ area! But it’s an essential part of the industry, however much some in the community art centre world would wish it away. So, when one of the longest-standing galleries makes a great leap in magnitude “ upwards, of course “ and a gallery I associate mainly with non-Indigenous contemporary artists “ Joan Ross, Narelle Autio, Tamara Dean, Trent Parke, etc “ appears to have enthusiastically moved over to the darker side, I’m all ears.
Adrian Newstead’s Cooee Gallery seems to have always been there in Sydney, from artefacts on Oxford Street to fine First Nations art in Bondi, then back on Oxford Street. Ever mutable, Newstead ducked out into Menzies Art Auctions during the GFC, then brought auctioneering back with him into Cooee in 2017 “ hitting the headlines straight away with the $2.1m sale of the glorious Emily Kngwarreye’s ‘Earth’s Creation’. But his pop-up shop in Oxford Street wasn’t big enough for either art of that size, nor for the ambitions of his partner of the past 10 years, Mirri Leven.
So, it’s off to Redfern East to the Olympic swimming pool sized premises that were once the place where Ken Done played host to Japanese coach parties of buyers for his colourful art. It’ll be a destination gallery with little passing trade, Newstead predicted. But, at last, major paintings can be seen to advantage and we can divide the space between regular exhibitions and auctions, with extra for storage and a salubrious private viewing room.
Although the building will be launched by Ken Done with a smoking ceremony by the La Perouse Land Council and a group show on 25th March, the first solo exhibition of works by classical urban artist, Helen Tiernan, won’t open until April.
Will community art centres be back in favour with Newstead, I wondered? For there was a time when Cooee’s refusal to let art centre coordinators ‘curate’ exhibitions for him caused offence in a system where turnover was extreme and corporate memory was virtually non-existent. I believe the industry’s reached a mature phase now, was the galleryist’s response. Art centres have had to move with the times, accepting that only some of their artists will emerge as stars, but if they do they deserve the best chance to sell in ethical galleries and develop careers. Infrastructure organisations like ANKA and Desart have really helped in this maturing.
Cooee’s speciality in regularly offering secondary market resales will continue “ though Newstead’s supply of art from the stockrooms of other galleries that have closed in Adelaide, Alice Springs and Melbourne must soon run out. I do know where the art is and can do all the documentation, he explained; so it’s where I’m most needed these days.
Oddly, the 72-year-old Newstead referred several times to adding contemporary art to his stable. As most First Nations art is undoubtedly contemporary, it turned out he meant non-Indigenous contemporary art. When you consider how galleries like Roslyn Oxley, Niagara and Annandale have added significant Aboriginal artists to their non-Indigenous stables, and Utopia Art Sydney has gone the other way, it seems only realistic that Cooee’s specially developed auction system should now be employed across the visual arts. And the former head of Australian & International Art at Bonhams, Litsa Veldekis. will take that on.
So, get used to detouring to 17 Thurlow Street (off Burke) in Redfern in the future. For, after one of Cooee’s most profitable years ever in 2020, Adrian Newstead believes we’re set for a prosperous time in art as well as having a product that is ripe for the world’s increased engagement with Australia’s Indigenous cultures.
Or as Newstead ironically put it, feeding into the world’s wokeness!
Meanwhile, Michael Reid, multi-galleryist, is arguably even more of a touchstone of the balance between Indigenous and non-Indigenous art. Until 2010, he had a partnership with senior Aboriginal art curator, Wally Caruana (ex-National Gallery) but found the fall-out from the GFC had hit collectors’ enthusiasm for Aboriginal art so hard it no longer made business sense.
But now, as American collectors like Steve Martin and Dennis Scholl have brought the dynamic back to the market with their investment reflected in institutions like Documenta in Germany, the Menil Collection in Houston and the Phillips Collection in Washington, not to mention uber-dealers Gagosian showing Aboriginal art in New York, LA and Hong Kong, so Michael Reid is definitely back in the game.
His Berlin gallery is the centre of this activity with a series of solo and community shows headed by Christian Thompson’s photographs but supported by repeated shows from the relatively unloved Ampilatwatja community, art from the APY Lands, an imminent solo for Timothy Cook from the Tiwi’s Melville Island, and a Gagosian-like showing of Papunya Tula works that he’d sold into the small but perfectly formed local Sammlung Klein Collection.
Berlin is the showcase for contemporary art across Europe, Reid explains, and I believe Aboriginal art should be part of that. But Europe is a slow burn “ collectors like to think about things for a long time, and, of course, the competition there is with great work. Maybe the Germans and Scandinavians prefer more technical stuff like photography, but the French want what they think Aboriginal art should be “ mainly works from the desert.
Reid’s website modestly pronounces: Michael Reid Berlin is the trusted European home for Australian Aboriginal Art.
In Sydney “ where Reid has galleries in Surry Hills and Newport “ Arnhemland has proved a success, with group showings of Maningrida and Yirrkala art and several solos for Reid’s favourite remote artist, Durrmu’s Regina Wilson. There’s also a resale side to the business with some eye-watering prices. But as Reid puts it, When you’re buying from me and my eye, it costs.
Reid’s Murrurundi gallery on the New England Highway may also soon lift its bucolic eye to the Indigenous; and he’s threatening a Southern Highlands addition to his stable.
Url: https://www.cooeeart.com.au/gallery ; https://michaelreid.com.au/?v=322b26af01d5
Artist: Emily Kngwarreye, Helen Tiernan, Timothy Cook, Regina Wilson, Christian Thompson,
Gallery: Cooee Art Gallery ,