In Praise of Galleries and their Shops

IN PRAISE OF ART GALLERIES AND THEIR SHOPS.

… It’s more accurate to say that I’m issuing a piece of music merchandise rather than ‘publishing’ my Sydney Opera House book. After the exquisitely architectural hardcover limited edition it’s moving into a handsome but modest paperback edition. And though it will still have many Reg Mombassa illustrations it will have a new final chapter (that will also be issued as a brochure to the purchasers of the special edition). The new chapter looks at what’s emerging in the relationship between the evolution of rock’n’roll as an artform in its connection with cultural institutions. At the Sydney Opera House this is in Ben Marshall’s programming of rock’n’roll within the Graphic Festival. In Tasmania it’s in how Brian Ritchie, a musician and ‘curator’ is taking MONA’s spirit of experimentation and iconoclasm, already out of the gallery and into Hobart itself, further afield into Launceston with the MONAFOMA festival. And in how the Australian Music Vault develops, how it might engage with and help musical forms evolve.

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My book has eight essays that once upon a time would likely have been published in an architecture magazine with a broad editorial approach (Blueprint or Metropolis in the late 20th Century). Today it would more likely be something issued with a boxed set … say a vinyl pressing of the Opera House’s “Ship Song Project’s” audio. But it’s going to have a life through the online music merchant Artist First and in gallery stores in a few Australian states.

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The photograph above is from the Art Gallery of South Australia. Every time I went to Adelaide during the research of my book I’d check into my hotel on North Terrace then race down to Art Gallery and spend some time there. The blend of old and new works, and different kinds of works in the galleries was revelatory and incredibly inspirational to me in how to inter-relate a lot of information from a lot of sources in my book.

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Galleries are also publishers and I relied on the Art Gallery of NSW’s catalogues from exhibitions on the beginnings of modernism internationally and in Australia, and in their catalogue for the Georgia O’Keefe, Margaret Preston and Grace Cossington Smith exhibition. And Janine Barrand’s catalogue for the exhibition of artefacts from the Nick Cave archive at the Performing Arts Centre was especially valuable in thinking about source material.

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In the retail environment of a gallery the books come after a direct experience of the work, and support and expand upon the experience. It’s the reverse of general publishing. While it’s my aim for the writing in my book to be of the highest quality, burnishing my reputation as a writer isn’t the point. I want to bind books more than I want to write them, and I’m thinking of myself as a surveyor, taking measure of a territory that others will colonise more effectively than I could.

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Another advantage in having my book in gallery stores is that it will truly be able to be music merchandise. Something particularly inspiring over the past few years is the unusual and fascinating objects and ephemera in the pop-up stores for the special exhibitions at the Art Gallery of NSW … the painted plates for the John Olsen exhibition that had an Elizabeth David cookbook kind of 70s cuisine sensibility that was beautiful in a rustic way, Duke Ellington CDs for the Paths to Abstraction exhibition … the Nick Cave Have Mercy on Me comic biography in the regular gallery shop … And the displays are always wild and entertaining (as are the instagram feeds of all the gallery stores).

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