Art Maze Mag Collab with Retrospect Galleries’ Bree Delian
It’s a rare thing to watch magic happening between two people. That’s what I saw unfolding when I saw Retrospect Galleries’ Director Bree Delian meet with Art Maze Mag’s Maria Zemtsova, who met at the Battersea Spring Affordable Art Fair in London.
Maria, who had recently fallen in love with the work of our artist Lisa Krannichfeld, sought us out, exclaiming that Bree and her must collaborate on a future edition of the magazine. A few months later and we can proudly announce that our own Bree Delian guest curated the international summer issue of Art Maze Magazine, available now online and in selected news agencies.
Unravelling Bree’s international art fair experiences is a slippery tale, with her early days fraught with corrupt Mexican, Korean and Chinese shipping companies unravelling the successes she had in sales in these countries. However, years on the road have honed her management skills and unequivocal talent for making quick decisions. She has developed the extreme efficiencies needed to make world-wide and often simultaneous art exhibitions possible, profitable, and most importantly a revered platform for presenting talented artists from the far corners of the world.
Words by Maria Zemtsova
Retrospect Galleries features an eclectic array of unforgettable artwork like the embroidered, mixed-media work of Hagar Vardimon and the powerful watercolour portraits of Lisa Krannichfeld (whose work can be found in ArtMaze Issue II). Delian is consistently exhibiting a compelling visual aesthetic that supports unique, emerging artists that are certainly making their mark on the art world. With a background working in the music industry, Bree Delian brings an amalgamation of different life experiences into creating a gallery that creatively engages with its public, whether it’s in their home-base of Byron Bay or across the world in one of the many international art fairs they attend.
Participating in art fairs from London to New York to Mexico City, Delian discusses the ups and downs of this growing aspect of this business, the ever-changing flux of the current art market, and its effect on both artists and galleries alike. Believing in the importance of staying true to the artist’s voice, Delian delves deep into the life of a gallery director and the importance of trusting her gut instincts. Join us as we explore the art scene in Hong Kong, issues of the industry like the lack of funding in the arts, and the “psychic energy” found in a piece of art.
AMM: Let’s start our conversation with a little introduction from you. Tell us what brought you into the world of contemporary art? Was curating something you always wanted to do?
BD: I was always involved in arts and started out working in music promotion and publicity. I toured a few bands around the world and brought bands from overseas to Australia, and working in this industry gave me invaluable skills in management, multitasking, communication, running events and publicity. My mother and grandfather were artists, and then I met my husband who was also an artist, so I guess I had no choice! Art followed me and eventually consumed me. I approached visual arts and running a gallery differently to others around that time. Before launching our international platform, I ran artist talks and dinners, collaborating the arts with festivals like Splendour in the Grass and the Blues and Roots festival. This is was where I organised themed shows that were relevant or political or obscure, like live tattoo shows. We had art that wasn’t just high art but encouraged expressions from different genres and sub genres, for example we embraced urban, pop, illustration, as well as loving realism and conventional forms of art. One of my biggest passions has always been to look out for new talent and give space to many emerging artists. Byron Bay is hard because of the mixed demographic and socio-economic audience, and as a 10,000 person town that has 1.5 million tourists passing through every year, you have to cater for different tastes.
AMM: How and when were Retrospect Galleries founded, and what was your initial inspiration behind this project?
BD: Twelve years ago Retrospect Galleries started as photographic space tucked down a side street of Byron Bay. After two years of people and artists asking if we would show their works, we took the next step – we found a spot in the main street of town which was a huge risk as the whole thing needed renovations but I had to start paying rent on the day we took the lease. We finished the week before Christmas and we had to open, and we thought, ‘oh my god, we need artwork and we need it now!’ It was chaos and completely on the fly but it worked and we sold art on the first night. My inspiration was always to represent contemporary culture, and what I found interesting in Byron Bay was that although it is a regional area, it wasn’t a place for a seaside-themed gallery. Instead we found that many people thought of themselves as urban individuals choosing to live in a semi-rural environment, that Byron was more like a suburb of Sydney than the nearby tourist trap of the Gold Coast, and I wanted art in the gallery to reflect that sense and mindset. It was perfect as when we opened there wasn’t really anything like us between Sydney and Brisbane, making us one of the first contemporary galleries operating outside of a major city.
AMM: We love that even though the gallery is based in Australia, you manage to participate in numerous international art fairs and travel the world. It’s very inspiring how you put yourself out there! Could you share the experience with us: what was the first art fair your gallery was involved with and what is your outlook on the art scenes in different countries and cultures?
BD: Our first show was a disaster! I had no idea about different cultural expectations about art and different art fairs, though I always had an accurate gut instinct that has remarkably helped me navigate the early days of the art fair labyrinth. I had a wonderful French assistant working for me at the time and our first show was the Singapore Affordable Art Fair (AAF), where we had a really successful show and were spurred on to do more! We decided to do a more extensive program the next year and booked a string of shows all in a row – Shanghai Contemporary, Korean International Art Fair (KIA), the Mexico City AAF, Art Toronto, nfially to the New York AAF and then back home. The schedule made sense as by the time the work leaves Australia, we overcome jet lag, and the shipping crates arrive, it is worth our while to do a collection of shows and bunny hop around the continents. We quickly learnt about the corruption of shipping industry in this time. Our artworks were withheld in China, Korea and Mexico, with each place refusing to release the artworks unless we paid thousands more dollars even a er we had paid the original bill. We learnt this amidst booking accommodation and last minute flights with only days between shows. We lost so much money but we had so much wonderful feedback from curators and the public at the shows, and sales were good enough to encourage and enable us to continue. In the last few years we have honed our skills although logistics are a continual negotiation and battle. Even when you think you have it covered at the last minute there is always a surprise.
You need a flexible mind to be in this industry and you need to be able to handle stress and pressure well, and to work to a tight deadline. Coming from Australia, this island so far from everywhere else, has many challenges but as you said it’s part of our appeal and many of our artists are so well received as they offer a point of difference. Our colours are often bold and bright and even how we communicate sets us apart from many other galleries in these exhibitions. We always greet with a smile and do extensive marketing campaigns, and we offer the clients a bridge between an artistic experience and the real world. It’s this communication that is vital because you only have a short time to engage at art fairs. They’re changing the way we sell. How do you establish a relationship in such a short time? How do you keep people engaged a after you go home? In the past when you purchased art, you formed a relationship with a favoured gallery and chose works from their selection. These art fairs encourage faster sales, as clients need to make decisions before the fair ends but they love seeing the ranging choice of the world’s art in a more condensed way. It’s exciting and you can put your artists and collections in front of thousands of people in a short space of time.
The art scene in China is diffcult although I haven’t been back since Shanghai because of the disaster of the logistics. Hong Kong however has become one of the important artistic hubs where you need to show your art. I love being in Hong Kong as it’s one of the most vibrant cities and is such a mixed community — everyone is coming there to work and meet and it’s an epicentre of business and communications. When I first was there, the kind of art that they revered was what the western world would see as tacky or too colourful or featured too much happiness. It is a place where superstition reigns and objects such as birds in certain formations or too many faces or references to the spirit world are off-putting. Portraiture was especially hard to sell. Colourful abstracts were very popular with Asian collectors and this remains unchanged. We are lucky because we always get a great ex-pat clientele, so we always bring work that we want to introduce to our diverse collectors but we also don’t want to marginalise local populations and seek to communicate well with them too. I’ve always hired translators and local talent to help wherever we are.
We have spent much time developing our European clientele. Northern European areas like Germany and Scandinavia have a much more serious inclination towards art, tending to favour moody and deep paintings and photography, whereas we found that the UK and New York love bright, popping colours and illustration. It’s amazing how different each country is and it’s exciting to keep learning about these trends and points of difference.
Although it’s important to work within your assumption of what each market wants, it’s important as a curator to uphold your vision for work you love and artists that you admire and cherish. For me selling art is about my love for that art and how I can authentically share that with our collectors. It has been an absolute privilege to work with our group of artists especially as they believed and invested in their future with us. For many of them their investment is paying off and they have broken into markets that were before unreachable to them. Developing your art isn’t an instant buck but a long term vision and a relationship, so I’m so thankful I can provide the platform for my talented artists to reach all over the world.
Purchase Art Maze Mag to read the full interview!