ART-traction: The Art of Selling Art

The art of selling art is a versatile one. The role of a commercial gallery is first and foremost a business, with overheads and budgets like any other.

Balance sheets can come as a shock to those well versed in the existential, expressionistic facets of artistic production.

Artist run spaces and public funded galleries are, at least on the surface, comforting reminders of the communicative purity of art.

Enter an auction house and it’s the complete opposite.

In most circles that consider themselves lovers of art, works are bought and traded like stocks and bonds. Enter the Chelsea district of New York, or the Pedder Street Building in Hong Kong and witness pieces reduced to investment potential and interest value.

Upon my first introduction to the New York art world the resemblance to horse racing was striking. Keenly following the form of the artist and the record of the gallery like jockeys and trainers, punters would place their bets in the auction houses.

The dress code was even similar, albeit more thick rimmed glasses and less fascinators.

The art world in Melbourne I am assured is no where near as vicious.

Claire Harris, the Director of prominent commercial gallery Flinders Lane Gallery, is absolutely lovely – as is the upcoming exhibition by FLG regular, Marise Maas.

Claire kindly took some time out her busy pre-opening schedule to answer some questions of Maas’s work and her role at FLG.

Marise Maas, My Bet, oil on canvas, 50 x 90cm

How long have you been at FLG, what is involved in your role as director?

I’ve been working at FLG since 2000, director since 2006. In a small business like this my role is administration, sales, curating, management etc. It is pretty much everything, including packaging of artworks.

What do you look for when planning your exhibition schedule? 

I try to give all the represented artists an opportunity to exhibit every 12-18 months. I try to fit in with their requirements while maintaining a flow and variation in the schedule which keeps in mind holidays and key events in Melbourne.

Which artists appeal to you most and what is the process of putting together a show?

It is all very intuitive and difficult to explain. I want to know what the ideas and premise is behind the body of work. The work itself must be high quality and intriguing invigorating and inspiring.

What can we expect from the upcoming Marise Maas exhibition? 

Marise is a very hard working professional artist. In Marise’s own words:

‘For my next body of work, I’m spending time dealing with an important subject I’ve been avoiding. It’s been 8 years since my younger sister Tjaarke died underneath a cliff in Italy. And I’m still here with a box of her possessions; notebooks, drawings, photos, shoes and letters …
I haven’t been able to tackle this box. But I think it’s time to open it. Tjaarke was a practising visual artist, like myself, although our work methods and styles differed greatly my paintings mainly deal with making the ‘unimportant’ important. I’ve always been interested in honouring the banal. But now I need to explore something more than just the remarkable mundane around me. After all, it’s death that gives life its power and weight.’ Marise Maas, 2012.

What emphasis is placed on developing ongoing relationships with artists?

Marise Maas for example has been successfully exhibiting at FLG since 2000. She started here when I started here, as did William Breen, Kathryn Ryan, Damien Elderfield, Mark Ogge, Mami Yamanaka. Juli Haas and Dan Wollmering have been with FLG for 25 years. I am very keen on having strong and friendly ties with our artists. It is of great importance to me that we maintain a mutually generous manner of working together, and show respect and consideration in our dealings.

Marise Maas, Open to Greatness, oil on canvas, 150 x 200cm

What priority is placed on painting at FLG? 

I do love a good painting, and believe that painting is always going to be an integral part of what we do at FLG but I am also keen to embrace an artist who wishes to incorporate installation works into their exhibition. We always enjoy working on our annual Exploration emerging art exhibition as it is an opportunity for us to curate into the space a great variety of media.

What is on the horizon for FLG, any exciting plans for the upcoming 25th Anniversary? 

It’s on my mind and I will hopefully get a chance to organise some soiree that will give me a chance to thank all our loyal clients and talented artists. So busy, though!

Tell us about you road to gallery director? What is your education and work background, when did you first become interested in working with art? 

I’ve always made art myself and in high school was selected for the Art Express so I use to have a little talent. I however decided initially to complete a Marketing degree, which I did, but then I went on to a Fine Arts degree as well majoring in Painting, minor in sculpture. I then worked at Greenhill Galleries in Perth as assistant to the director for a few years before heading to Melbourne in 2000 when I was hired at FLG.

What advice would you give a student keen to break into the gallery industry? Paid positions are few and far between, is there any trick to making it out of the intern world? 

I know it is really tough to break in. I think you need to know which arena you want to work in – are you keen on commercial sector, or public? There is a big difference. Working at a commercial gallery means you must try and sell the works, too. It is not glamorous at all and you must be prepared to work very hard doing pretty crappy jobs for a long time with low rewards. What has kept me going is the sheer buzz of seeing wonderful exhilarating artworks every day, of interacting with intelligent fascinating artists and in helping great people find exceptional art for their collections.  So hang in there, do volunteer work at the right places, work at artist run spaces, do anything that is involving you in the arts and building your CV so that when a job does come up you can try for it with much more of a chance of actually getting it.

Marise Maas, ‘Open the Box’ opens at the Flinders Lane Gallery April 16 and runs until May 4th.

Flinders Lane Gallery is located 137 Flinders Lane, Melbourne.

Laura Phillips


Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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