Saturday, July 26, 2008

Getting Loaded

The entire exhibition has been stacked in the back of my truck. Tomorrow, I'll drive the 1,000 kms between my studio, just north of Sydney, to Melbourne, maybe stopping overnight at a country hotel to sleep for a few hours before pressing on to reach the gallery in time to hang the show on Monday morning. I won't have much time to rest after that. I work very hard in the days immediately before and after the opening of a show; it's part of the job to educate gallery staff about what they'll be selling, to spend time with individual collectors and curators, and to do as much press as possible.
There's also the organisation of the all-important opening night party (on 31st July) to oversee.
Brett Whitely
, the famed painter who brought a Byronic flourish to the local art scene during the '60s – he died 16 years ago of a heroin overdose in a beachside motel room between Sydney and Wollongong; he was just 53 – was probably the last Australian artist to turn his shows into high-profile events, transforming his exhibition spaces into elaborate sets on which his works – and he – could play 'big' to their audiences. Before his unarguable gifts (and his louche, rock star-like charsima) were eroded by drug abuse, Whitely's presence both energised and got up the nose of staid commercial galleries and institutions which, between them, had worked out a cosy system to manage the careers of the mainly male artists they deemed 'suitable'. Whitely managed to work the system to tremendous advantage (last year, his painting, The Olgas, sold at auction for $A3.5 million) but remained uncompromisingly unsuitable, a sharp thorn in its side.
Opening night parties never have anything to do with art. I don't even pretend mine do. They're a chance to unwind, to celebrate – an exuberant expression of relief after a long period of self-imposed seclusion to produce the work. And everyone is welcome. Well, almost everyone (you know who you are).

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