SYDNEY MORNING HERALD 2004

Photograph from the Sydney Morning Herald, July 2004.
Photograph from the Sydney Morning Herald, July 2004.

In July 2004, the Sydney Morning Herald featured an article about collecting art which mentioned the group.

Image conscious; Collectors; [First Edition]
Jeni Harvie. Sydney Morning Herald. Sydney, N.S.W.: Jul 15, 2004. pg. 10

(c) 2004 John Fairfax Publications Pty Limited. http://www.smh.com.au.

Collecting art involves more than a fat wallet.They are an eclectic group – some work in the media, a couple are lawyers, a number are public servants and one is a pharmacist – but they all have a common passion: art.

They came together two years ago with the intention of putting together a collection of Australia’s emerging artists, providing a snapshot of what was happening in the country politically, socially and culturally over 10 years.

The project is the brainchild of long-time art collector Dr Frank Croll and his niece, Janne Ryan, a Radio National broadcaster. Croll died last year but Ryan has kept his dream alive and gathered around her 11 like-minded people, such as art teacher Wendy Mortimer and Steven Alward, head of policy for ABC news and current affairs.

The group calls itself Hawkesbury One in keeping with the river themes of similar Australian groups – Derwent in Tasmania and Yarra in Melbourne. So far, it has collected eight works, including paintings by Dorothy Napangardi Robinson, Adam Cullen and Arryn Snowball, a digital photograph by Patricia Piccinini, a cutout by Neil Smith and its most recent work, a video piece by David Rosetzky. Each member puts in a set amount each year, the purchases are decided by

a committee and the works are rotated through members’ houses every four months.

It has been a steep learning curve for the group, most of whom had previously just dabbled in art collecting. “We decided we wanted young people who are passionate about having a full-time career as an artist, who are coming up through the system and whose work is edgy, moving and likely to last,” says Alward.

“This has meant lots of research – going to galleries, talking to dealers and artists, critics and analysts, subscribing to every art magazine on the market. We are tapping into a whole range of discussions that are going on around contemporary art. It is as much about the conversation as actually owning the art.”

It’s a journey many people hope to make but few know where to begin. Stuart Purves, the national director of the Commercial Galleries Association, suggests a good starting point is buying a copy of The Art Almanac which lists all Australian galleries.

“Spend up to a month going around the galleries, then concentrate on the ones you feel most comfortable in and the ones that challenge you. Discuss art with collectors and friends and read the plethora of material written about art and galleries. Having done all that, begin a discourse with the galleries you like and they will show you their stock rooms. Galleries do play favourites with artists and clients; the people who have the most genuine involvement with the gallery will benefit over the rest.

“And [once you start collecting] you can forget about painting your house or going on Christmas holidays because you will love collecting so much all your money will go into paintings.”

Mark Fraser, the managing director of Sotheby’s Australia, believes auctions can be an educational environment. “You get a feel for the mood of the market at auction,” he says. “You sense whether or not a particular style of artist is in vogue; you can feel if the room is buzzing or a bit bored. It also gives you a very clear idea of price.

“The major pitfall is buying something simply for the name. People see a big name, say, a Nolan or a Whiteley, but it may actually be a second- or third-rate example. You have to understand where it fits in with the rest of the artist’s work.

“You also have to understand that the market is as sectionalised as the sharemarket.”

Susan Borham, the editor-in-chief of Australian Art Collector, says people should look at works of artists in the same age bracket as themselves as there “tend to be shared generational themes, interests and sensibilities”.

She says the two areas of art that are “hot” in Australia now are photography and video or digital art. But she suggests enthusiasts look at abstract art, which she claims is underpriced, particularly when compared with figurative or landscape art of the same era.

The magazine’s annual “Smart Art” list of collectable art for under $3000, in its current issue, ranges from Kate Briscoe, who mixes paint with sand for her rich minimalist landscapes, to Sam Smith, whose work encompasses DVDs, sculptures, installations, sound and photography.

Alward says that although he has been buying art for 20 years he is only just beginning to really appreciate it through the Sydney art group. “Hawkesbury has given me new eyes and new ways of responding to the visual arts,” he Says. “Where once I would choose a piece of art because it would look nice and fit a space on a wall, that is no longer enough. Now it has to scare me or make my spirit soar or make me laugh or cry or make me want to sing. Art has to surprise me.”

When not to buy art

* At night: you tend to be less focused and the chances of buying impulsively are greater.

* While on holiday: you’re relaxed and, again, your critical defences are down.

* When a dealer wants to deal: alarm bells should ring when a dealer drastically reduces the price.

* If you’re under pressure: ignore the dealer who stands at your shoulder. You need space and time to make your choice.

* Think twice before buying art for sale at a restaurant.

* Beware of opening-night fever: fuelled by free alcohol, punters can lose their heads.

* Beware the red dot: some dealers put dots on works that aren’t sold to give the impression the exhibition is popular.

– adapted from How to Buy & Sell Art by Michael Reid (Allen & Unwin), $29.95.

SMH Article as a pdf. (1.6 megs)