Galleries galore - an article in Australian Financial Review
Brisbane's former industrial wastelands have been transformed into the heartland of the city's private art galleries. Kathy Mac Dermott reports.
Brisbane's fringe-CBD suburbs of Fortitude Valley and Newstead are home to the likes of Philip Bacon, Jan Murphy, Fireworks, and the Bellas galleries.
One of the first of the new wave to open its doors in Newstead was the Doggett Street Studio, established in October 1993 by Brisbane artists, Scott Whitaker and Allyson Reynolds when they were aged 23 and 22 respectively.
The couple bought a former Skinners Bus freight depot and repair workshop and transformed it into studios and a rental gallery.
Nine years on Doggett Street has established a national reputation for showing emerging artists and those in the mid-term of their careers.
``It's hard to think of what the contemporary arts scene would have been in Brisbane without Doggett Street," Shane Thompson, a partner of architects Bligh Voller Nield says.
Thompson and his wife Sally have sourced around 10 per cent of their private collection (which comprises about 120 paintings and sculptures) from the gallery. And Thompson has commissioned a number of works for his architectural clients.
These projects include finding 19paintings by Whitaker and Reynolds as part of BT Funds Management's overhaul of its Sheraton Hotel in Brisbane last year for around $30,000.
Most recently Thompson has commissioned close to 40 pieces from nine of Doggett Street's exhibitors for Ernst & Young's new Brisbane premises. This order was also worth close to $30,000.
Doggett Street is a rich hunting ground to find exciting new artists, particularly for clients with tight budgets, Thompson says.
Antonia Syme, a director of the Federal Government's Artbank is similarly enthused about using Doggett Street to find rising talent.
Artbank has been buying from Doggett Street for more than six years. ``The gallery has a very large turnover and it's really interesting to see what the bright young things are doing up in Queensland," she says.
Because Doggett Street comprises four spaces, the gallery typically stages three to four exhibitions at the one time, with 11 to 12 shows each year. Typically the Friday night openings attract between 100 and 300 people.
Whitaker says this process is good for artists and buyers alike. It achieves a ``cross pollination" of the audience, and visitors get to see three to four shows in a single visit.
Until recently the gallery was run purely on a rental basis, but a 10 per cent commission fee has been introduced to cover the cost of providing credit card facilities.
According to Whitaker most commercial galleries charge a minimum commission rate of 33 per cent, and most charge between 40and 60 per cent.
``If we charged 40 per cent commission we would be much better off than being a rental gallery certainly that is the case for the past three years but we don't have the time to commit to that arrangement," he says.
Time is increasingly an issue for the gallery owners.
Whitaker and Reynolds both continue to paint, with Whitaker completing a May-June exhibition in Ray Hughes's Surry Hills gallery and Reynolds preparing to show in Rebecca Hossack's London gallery in January.
The business partners have also married, have two young children, and are readying to build a studio at their Dayboro home.
Ironically, Whitaker says, now that time is more divided with family and business demands, the two are getting more work done than ever.
Because the margins in running a rental gallery are slim, Doggett Street has adopted a ``lateral expansion" which includes starting a framing business in 1995.
``There are good margins [in framing] and it feeds off the gallery quite well," Whitaker says.
Thompson, who as well as being a patron of Doggett Street has exhibited his own work three times in the gallery, says Whitaker's meticulous business approach is applied to each of the group's activities.
In the past 18 months Doggett Street has been using its website to expose its artists to a broader audience and snare sales from Sydney, Melbourne and overseas.
Recently an exhibition by Brisbane artist Robert Brownhall was featured on the web on a Friday afternoon a week before the opening of his show.
``We sold $40,000 off the web that afternoon," Whitaker recalls.
Thompson reckons Whitaker's empathy with fellow artists is part of his success, along with his strong communication with consistent purchasers. ``He has taken a proactive role. Rather than just painting selfishly, he supports artists and assists them in making their work available to a large audience."
Author: Kathy Mac Dermott
Publication: Australian Financial Review