Alison Bartley is the founder and director of Bartley + Company Art
, a leading gallery based in Wellington. The gallery sells and promotes artwork by emerging and established contemporary New Zealand artists, including Anne Noble, Brett Graham and Rachel Rakena. The gallery’s name reflects its ethos and Bartley’s belief that art is essentially social and about communicating. At Sydney Contemporary, Bartley + Company is exhibiting work by Andre Hemer, Harley Ives and Hye Rim Lee. Bartley spoke to Ocula about her background in art, a recent major installation at the National Gallery of Art, why she chose to present a three-person show at Sydney Contemporary.
Please could you explain how you came to be involved in art, and in particular why you came to open a gallery?I come from a background in art history and have been involved in art for 20 years. This gallery is in its fifth year and I opened it because it offers me the opportunity to spend my days doing work that I find deeply satisfying. I really enjoy working with artists and I find the diversity of ideas with which they are engaged stimulating and expansive.
Brett Graham and Rachel Rakena, two artists you represent, recently installed a work entitled Aniwaniwa in the exhibition Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art at the National Gallery of Canada. Are you able to tell me a little more about this work and in particular the collaboration between Graham and Rakena?
The genesis of this work is the story of the village where Brett’s father grew up which was flooded to create a dam but why it’s been so successful internationally, in Venice as well as Canada, and what gives it its power is that it goes beyond the specific with the idea of submersion in water operating broadly as a metaphor for cultural loss and renewal. People respond to it.
Brett is essentially a sculptor and Rachael a moving image artist. Their collaboration started after Brett saw an early video of Rachael’s, Rerehiko, which used water in a way that was resonant for him. Both artists also share a political commitment to preserving and advancing a distinctive Maori worldview while using the language of contemporary art.
A number of commentators have been referencing a “coming of age” in relation to the Australasian art scene. Do you have a view on this?
I am not sure about that but I think there is certainly confidence that the art produced in this part of the world stands up very well internationally. Distance is no longer the issue it once was pre-globalisation. I guess there is also a maturity in the arts infrastructure. Three art fairs are a measure of that and the Auckland Art Fair has been a very successful initiative in New Zealand.
Why is participating at Sydney Contemporary relevant to your gallery now?
We want to be actively part of a bigger world outside New Zealand and to increase audiences for our artists. Australia is an obvious first step. Sydney being a new art fair has a real buzz about it and the new management feels positive and exciting. It’s great to be part of the inaugural event.
The title of the exhibition you are showing at Sydney Contemporary is Take Three: Contemporary New Media. Perhaps you could explain a little about the title and each artist exhibiting in this exhibition?
I chose to have a small stand at Sydney and I think with a small stand you need to have a more tightly curated show for it to work well. I place a lot of importance on a good installation and like to see works entering into conversation with each other and enhancing each other. My starting point was Andre Hemer who is doing his PhD at Sydney University. Andre is a painter investigating the role of painting in a digital world and so it was quickly obvious that the digital would be a good theme for the stand. I have also worked informally with Hye Rim Lee for several years since selling her video Crystal City to a collector who I helped develop a moving image collection. When she returned to New Zealand at the beginning of this year, as the visiting fellow at AUT, she approached me about working together and this is our first outing, which is exciting. Harley Ives is a young Sydney moving image artist whose work is very interesting in that it comes at new media almost inversely to Andre’s project in investigating how the newer technologies speak to older genres of art – he wants to express the painterly in moving image to create moving paintings. So very simply, three takes.
The gallery in Wellington will maintain regular opening hours during the fair and its current exhibition is by Peter Trevelyan, Ambiguous Topographies. Perhaps you could tell us a little about Trevelyan’s practice and this particular exhibition?
Peter Trevelyan is another artist that excites me. As Brett and Rachael keep me in touch with certain ideas which I think are very important to be abreast of in New Zealand so too, in a way that stimulates me, Peter opens up arcane worlds about such things as the history of mathematics about which I know nothing. His work is phenomenal and we got a huge response to it at the Auckland Art Fair. People were blown away by the fact that graphite, the ancient tool of drawing, could be used to construct three-dimensional form. Peter has had 14 public gallery exhibitions and only started to show commercially this year and it is exciting to work with him and to help present the work in a way that makes people feel they can buy it — and of course that in turn helps establish a viable practice for him.