SELLING INTERNATIONAL ART IN AUSTRALIA (AND THE KISS OF DEATH)
This article considers the international art market in Australia with reference in particular to the strongly emerging, dynamic market of China. In prefacing this article, it is necessary to consider the following statistics.
1: China is the world’s largest nation, its estimated population around 1.4 billion
2: Australia is the world’s 55th largest nation, its estimated population around 24 million
3: For every Australian there are 61 Chinese.
4: The total world population is estimated to be 7.5 billion
5: For every Australian, there are 312 “others.”
6: By extension, and reasonable assumption, for every Australian artist, there are approximately 312 “international artists,” producing (again by reasonable assumption) 312 artworks for every 1 Australian artwork.
Given the information above, the following questions might follow;
1: WHY DO AUSTRALIAN COMMERCIAL GALLERIES HAVE SUCH LITTLE INTEREST IN ART SOURCED FROM ANYWHERE ELSE BUT AUSTRALIA?
2: DO AUSTRALIAN COMMERCIAL ART GALLERISTS REALIZE THAT IN NOT CONSIDERING INTERNATIONAL ART, THEY ARE LIMITING THEMSELVES TO CONSIDERING JUST 0.003% OF THE WORLDS ART?
3: WHY DO SO MANY AUSTRALIAN COMMERCIAL ART GALLERISTS ESPOUSE/ PROCLAIM THE IMPORTANCE OF MULTI CULTURALISM, TOLERANCE, UNDERSTANDING, COMPASSION AND THE BENEFITS OF GLOBALISATION, AND THEN DO SO LITTLE TO ACTUALLY ENGAGE WITH IT?
In answering these questions, and in the interests of fairness, it is acknowledged that all over the world, retail markets, art or otherwise, are first and foremost local and regional. In the art market, this translates to average galleries offering, and their customers buying, comfortable, pleasant work derived from their own culture. By and large, the galleries who show this kind of art make a living selling exclusively Australian journeyman art that looks attractive on the wall. Almost without exception, the work is aesthetically nice to look at and usually, some form of landscape or still life. Very few works of the artists represented by these galleries will be found in serious private collections or those of the lofty state and national arts institutions.
Whilst it is important that collectors avoid the art and galleries mentioned above if they want to sincerely engage with meaningful and collectable art, it is a terrible shame that narrow minded and weak gallerists in the “premier “ gallery category and their associated curators, art journalists and art critics don’t do more to engage them with the best obtainable art from all around the world. Rather, these “tastemakers” peddle an inexcusably small selection of work justified on the basis of patriotic favour towards local artists. The result is that the contemporary art collections of most serious Australian art collectors are pretty much all the same. The works themselves are highly derivative, and like the people who assemble them, have a very narrow perspective . The collectors concerned should feel cheated; or perhaps they are happily complicit. The current trend amongst influential curators all over the world to steadfastly promote, with almost religious vigour, art that is mostly ugly, boring and almost uncollectable crud is tragic. There isn’t an open and free mind among them of course, and absolutely no chance that any one of them will buck the trend; a worldwide trend that exhibits junk as art, sharks in tanks as art, an old pile of discarded clothes as art, and even childhood photographs as art. As an industry, the arts in Australia has always followed developments in Europe and the USA, picking up several years after the event on what is happening there, and effectively copying it (or less crudely, being highly informed by it). Largely the art that gallery goers now view could be from anywhere; but, it isn’t – it’s Australian, and it’s trendy.
What could be happening instead is that galleries could (with some extra effort ) be exhibiting a much broader, much more interesting, much higher quality selection of work from around the world while still representing local artists who make the grade. Premier galleries should have international concerns, and should surely acknowledge that most of the best art is made by international artists, and not Australian artists. This statement is based on the numbers, the statistics outlined in the preface to this essay which show just how small Australia is in the global market place. The only way to refute the statement is to argue that irrespective of the numbers, Australian artists are superior to foreign artists. Premier galleries should feel an obligation to bring more international art here and put it up on their walls for people to see. Collectors and the public at large flock in enormous numbers to the APT, the Sydney Biennale, to the White Rabbit Gallery and to public galleries when they exhibit Monet, Picasso, Turner, et al. People love international art, they don’t want to view only Australian art, and commercial art gallerists should get off their bums and start hanging international art as well as the local product.
But, alas, to do so would be to fly in the face of traditional gallery practice. Perhaps in 2017, it might still be perceived as disloyal, as un-Australian to offer opportunities to “others” at the expense of our own. Certainly, anyone wanting to embark on an “international art gallery” path would be swimming against the tide, defying the long held trend of putting local first. Some international art is dynamic and vital, and some of it concerns really important issues such as human rights and environmental degradation. What a pity that it is not yet trendy in Australia? What a pity that this readily available product is virtually ignored in Australia because we are locked so much into ourselves. What a pity that Australia for once does not determine to be a trend setter, rather than a trend follower, and thereby exponentially expand what collectors get to choose from. What a pity for the art dealers who are brave enough to give it a go anyway – it’s a pity because, try as they might, the odds are heavily in favour of business failure and a return to the same old status quo. To step out of line, to challenge the entrenched, to be ahead of the trend, is from a business perspective, THE KISS OF DEATH.
(R. A. Hayward, Director, Hayward Fine Art, Brisbane, Australia)