25 July 1993

Art college friction isn't fiction

Premier John Fahey's announcement this week that Sydney College of the Arts(SCA), now amalgamated with the University of Sydney, will be relocated to a new $19 million facility at Rozelle means, publicly, an end to 18 years of poor accommodation and inadequate funding. But behind the scenes the country's leading art school remains embroiled in a bitter power struggle among senior management.
At the end of last year, the friction became so intense that the university's vice-chancellor, Don McNichol, was forced to intervene.
He commissioned an inquiry and appointed an independent facilitator to bring the college back from the brink.
The inquiry's confidential report - Inside Sydney has obtained a copy -finds a prevailing climate of "distrust, side-taking, suspicion, low morale"resulting in a "lack of effective decision-making and action ... a climate not conducive to allowing an obviously talented and committed staff to give of their best".
In the eye of the storm is internationally recognised Sydney artist Richard Dunn.
SCA's director since 1988, he sees the genesis of the problem dating back to the college's amalgamation with Sydney University in 1990.
Dunn commented: "If you join an institution and they say 'this is how you must be' - and it's very different from how you were - then there are bound to be difficulties.
"The uni created a school within the college and then appointed a person to head the school. It hadn't been structured that way before and there was confusion about roles and duties."
And according to the vice-chancellor's own report, this led to escalating conflict between Dunn and the head of the school, Associate Professor Helge Larson.
As the acrimony grew, lines of communication collapsed and, notes the report, "previously neutral staff (were) being drawn into factionalism ..."
Inside Sydney was unable to contact Larson but, according to Dunn, his current job will no longer be there when he returns from holidays next month.
Dunn revealed: "He will be my deputy, now that the vice-chancellor has decided to remove the school from the college and adopt a structure where the director also has the duties and responsibilities of head of school."
Dunn said he was willing to work with Larson on his return.
"I'm sure we'll develop a good working relationship, but we need to sit down and talk about where we go from here.
"There are ongoing problems with a minority of people, but that's nothing surprising."
While the new structure is still to be ratified by the university's senate, the independent facilitator, former Dean of Arts Dr Pat Lahy, took up her role last month.
"I'm trying to move the college more into line with the way a faculty at the university works," Lahy explained.
"In a faculty there's more collegiality, people have more input into the decision-making process and some say in what happens.
"And I'd like it known that the process is working."
Constituted by the Whitlam Government in 1975, SCA has coped with sparse funding and poor accommodation ever since.
Scattered over three ramshackle campuses in Glebe and Balmain, it has produced a steady stream of graduates who have slotted straight into the vanguard of Australian contemporary art - such as Jane Campion, Lindy Lee, John Young, Janet Burchill and Dunn himself.
The acting vice-chancellor, Professor Susan Dorsch, told Inside Sydney SCA was an asset to the university, and the move to the heritage-listed, 19th-century Kirkbride buildings at Rozelle Hospital would go a long way to solving the college's problems.
She said: "They've been labouring in bad accommodation for such a long time that Kirkbride must have a positive effect, mainly because it removes that climate of uncertainty."
Dunn agreed that staff relations had improved since Lahy came on board.
"It's slowly being worked through," he said. "Essentially, we have a staff working under appalling conditions producing students who are incredibly good."
Caption: Illus: SCA director, Richard Dunn ... hoping for an end to the bickering. Picture by GARY McLEAN
Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Publication date: 24-7-1993
Edition: Late
Page no: 15
Section: News and Features
Length: 808
First published in The Sydney Morning Herald

18 July 1993

Artspace turns 10 as it changes its emphasis

INSIDE SYDNEY: Artspace, Sydney's first publicly funded contemporary art gallery, celebrates its first decade next week, culminating with a party at its expansive new home in Woolloomooloo on Saturday. Artspace, Sydney's first publicly funded contemporary art gallery, celebrates its first decade next week, culminating with a party at its expansive new home in Woolloomooloo on Saturday.
Gallery director Louise Pether recalled: "Looking back, there have been such phenomenal shifts in the last 10 years.
"Originally Artspace seemed a real 1970s concept, in that anybody could exhibit and it was catering for people straight out of art school.
"But gradually the artist-run galleries have become more numerous, to the point where today you have spaces like First Draft WEST, Arthaus, Black and Lime all filling that gap.
"That leaves us somewhere between them and the Museum of Contemporary Art or NSW Art Gallery."
Before shifting last year to the new $1.5 million Gunnery Visual Arts Centre at Woolloomooloo Bay, Artspace occupied the first floor of an aging Surry Hills warehouse for nine years.
"Artspace was important because it was the first space in Sydney to address contemporary art, as it was practised at the time," explained artist and former Artspace committee member Merilyn Fairskye. "It combined an international outlook with a commitment to local artists and writers. But, just as crucially, it provided a place where artists could learn to negotiate the art world and begin to take control of their careers."
Pether - who succeeded previous directors Judy Annear, Gary Sangster and Sally Couacaud - estimates that 550 artists have participated in more than 200 exhibitions since Artspace opened but said the Gunnery necessarily meant a shift in emphasis for the exhibition program.
"Suddenly, we're in these quite splendid premises. It's corporate - almost glamorous - and the art really has to look good, otherwise everything falls apart.
"So, in terms of experimentation and risk-taking, the sorts of shows we have here will be different to those we experienced at Surry Hills.
"We've decided we're no longer a place for first exhibitors. But we are still a place for emerging ideas, and these can come from any generation or an artist of any experience."
Caption: Ilus: Art of time ... Abby Mellick, Julianne Pierce and Louise Pether, of Artspace, ready to celebrate the gallery's 10th birthday.Picture by PETER RAE
Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Publication date: 17-7-1993
Edition: Late
Page no: 15
Section: News and Features
Length: 476
First published in The Sydney Morning Herald

11 July 1993

Oxley makes plans on a fresh canvas

INSIDE SYDNEY: Leading Sydney gallery owner Roslyn Oxley yesterday confirmed major changes to her contemporary art business, including a dramatically smaller stable and plans to move from her Paddington landmark. "We had an offer for this space which really surprised us," she explained. "So we're considering the move because, economically, it's really too good an opportunity." With commercial galleries enduring a sluggish market, Oxley said she has no option but to meet the challenge.
"What we're doing is contracting. We're fairly small, in terms of personnel, and it's become very hard to manage artists properly. So we're paring down our stable.
"At McDonald Street (her earlier Paddington exhibition space) we could have five shows running at once. But in this gallery we can only have one or two at the most - and I find we're only concentrating on the artists we're really interested in.
"It's not fair to the others. So perhaps they'll get full attention somewhere else."
Oxley nominated 17 artists as a workable target - and said claims that she had 72 on her books at the height of the 1980s boom were "absolute garbage".
She added: "At our peak we probably had 35. But that's not full representation. At any one time you've only got the capacity to represent fully 12 or 15 people at a maximum."
In slashing numbers Oxley is echoing the trend set by new players on the Sydney scene such as Gene Sherman's Goodhope Gallery and the Sarah Cottier's new gallery in Newtown (scheduled for launch late this year).
Both are entering the market with small, select stables - and have secured representation of some of the biggest names in contemporary Australian art, including former leading lights from Oxley's gallery such as Dale Frank (now with Sherman Goodhope) and John Nixon (Sarah Cottier).
Oxley worked for 20 years as an interior designer (both in Australia and in New York) before returning to begin her gallery in an old rented warehouse in McDonald Street, Paddington, in early 1982.
Showcasing risky, emerging artists, Roslyn Oxley Gallery was an inst ant success.
Oxley had the foresight to buy a warehouse in Soudan Lane, Paddington, before the 1980s property boom - and relocated there in March 1990 after a lavish refurbishment.
"We always planned to move here, if we couldn't buy McDonald Street," she recalled.
"And we're not thinking of selling this place - just renting it out and relocating the gallery.
"But the whole thing is still under wraps, and I'm not going to tell you anymore until we've completed it."
On the current market, she summed up: "It's become more and more difficult... Quite frankly, I'd prefer to sell socks.
"But the art's the thing and, although it's hard, it's a fabulous business to be in.
"I'm very optimistic about the art that's coming out of Australia. It has a real edge that keeps coming through, and this is without doubt a very exiting time."
Caption: Illus: Roslyn Oxley ... "Quite frankly, I'd prefer to sell socks." Picture by DEAN SEWELL
Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Publication date: 10-7-1993
Edition: Late
Page no: 15
Section: News and Features
Length: 605
First published in The Sydney Morning Herald