Exterior view of the newly designed Artspace, a nonprofit contemporary art space in Sydney. All photos by Michael Young for ArtAsiaPacific. 

View of the Sydney Harbour from the second floor of Artspace, where they have artist studios for its residency program. 

Apr 08 2015

Finding the Edge: Alexie Glass-Kantor and Artspace

by Michael Young

On March 27, Sydney’s Artspace debuted their newly-renovated exhibition space with the preview of “An Imprecise Science,” a group show featuring 13 Australian and international artists. Artspace also announced new plans they have in the works to further develop its visitorship and re-establish the gallery as a venue for experimental art—as, in recent years, the nonprofit contemporary art center has been suffering from declining audiences.

Alexie Glass-Kantor, former director of Melbourne’s Gertrude Contemporary, who has been the executive director of Artspace for a little over one year, has recently completed an overhaul of the institution’s policy and management. At the unveiling of the art space’s first redesign in 20 years, Glass-Kantor told ArtAsiaPacific that she “want[ed] to wake up the building.” Attending the event, Glass-Kantor was fresh off the plane from Art Basel in Hong Kong where she curated a successful Encounters section featuring works by 20 artists. Rumor is that a majority of the large-scale installation works had sold, with at least two pieces heading to leading institutional galleries in Sydney.

Established in 1983, Artspace was created as an artist-run space dedicated to contemporary and experimental art. In 1992 they moved into its current site in the historic Gunnery building in Woolloomooloo, overlooking the Sydney Harbour. Supported by funds from the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy department of the New South Wales Government (an initiative of the Australia, State and Territory Governments) and the Australia Council, Artspace is now an officially recognized nonprofit entity.

Considered a preeminent institution within the Australian arts sector, Artspace has bulked up its programming; however, public response has been lukewarm. A recent audience survey suggested that visitors to the gallery were aging and diminishing. The reasons being, as cited by the focus group, its gallery spaces being too dark and its location being too “hard to find.”  Perhaps a more significant influence was the news of a financial sponsor withdrawing its partnership with Artspace, resulting in some people feeling that the institution was no longer relevant to them.

Not one to shy away from challenges, Glass-Kantor has tackled the issues head on. With State Government input, local architects were called in to reinvigorate and reconfigure Artspace’s internal design, which focused on bringing in more light into the galleries and opening up the entrance area. According to Glass-Kantor, the re-launch was necessary to “shake things up a bit.” Emphasizing the institution’s new vision statement—“Ever changing, ever challenging”—she adds, “That is our call to arms. What we wanted to do was to really rethink the space.”

In the short time since her appointment in 2013, Glass-Kantor has introduced several new initiatives such as the Ideas Platform, which started this year. Situated at the entrance of Artspace, the Ideas Platform has been developed as an open-ended project space that is free of rigid scheduling to accommodate new and experimental practices. Inaugurating the new program is Los Angeles-based artist Eve Fowler who is currently showing her declamatory posters and text-based art.

EVE FOWLER‘s text-based project, the inaugural showcase for Artspace’s new Ideas Platform section. 

Another area of Artspace’s programming is its residencies. Consisting of seven non-residential studios on the second floor of its building, it was also announced that the studios will be free to artists up to one year. Visitors will also be able to engage directly with the artists, who will all be visiting fellows at the University of New South Wales Art and Design and will have full access to the art-school facilities. Artists currently in the program are Australian artists Hany Armanious and Mikala Dwyer, and Sydney-based Afghan artist Khadim Ali, who grew up in the shadow of Taliban persecution and was recently appointed as a board member of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Other initiatives include: digitizing Artspace’s extensive archive of art writings, which will be available online on an open-source platform; and an art book fair that will fill all three gallery levels, due to take place later in the year to coincide with the Sydney Contemporary art fair. Toward the year-end, Nicholas Mangan will bring his research-oriented practice to Artspace with a work that postulates a link between sun cycles and the fluctuating financial markets.

With a visitor’s perspective at the core, Glass-Kantor commented, “I don’t determine need nor does the artists. It is the audience who decides—if you don’t have an audience, you don’t have an idea.” But she is confident that Artspace’s new approach will be the driving force that attracts the crowds.

Artspace executive director Alexie Glass-Kantor.