My ART | Gallerist: Andrew Thomas

Gallerist: Andrew Thomas

Gallerist: Andrew Thomas

Are you a gallerist or an art dealer?

Maybe I’m both. Gallerist feels like the term that has become popular in recent years perhaps as a way to divert some of the overtly commercial connotations that being an Art Dealer might suggest, or to emphasise that what we do can have more cultural currency than financial currency. But as commercial galleries the business model largely remains unchanged for decades, and the work we do for our artists relies on making sales. This provides income for artists and it facilitates a platform to present and contextualise their work in a way that can be quite nimble and responsive. While selling isn’t necessarily the primary motivation to be sharing work you believe in with other people, I also don’t think it has to be overly downplayed as part of the role of a gallery like ours. I‘d hope that ultimately you are better defined by the values that your gallery represents than what job title you opt for.

Why did you open your gallery/start working in galleries?

I started working in galleries a bit by accident. I was studying photography with the idea that I wanted to be a commercial photographer but I realised this wasn’t going to be for me in the way I thought it would. It was quite a diverse and open course though, and there were people who taught me who used photography in all sorts of different ways. Gavin Hipkins introduced me to Hamish McKay and I forget the details but I started hanging around a lot at the gallery, and effectively working there. I’d been seeking out galleries since I was at high school but I sometimes felt out of place as a visitor to the small quiet rooms of Wellington’s dealer galleries. Through Hamish that world opened up for me. I was meeting artists and seeing work that I hadn’t seen before, and starting to understand what their concerns were. I also found the clients I was meeting and the ‘art market’ equally captivating. I was drawn in by the excitement and the complete unpredictability of it all.

If you could own any work of art, what would it be?

It’s hard to zero in on one particular thing as the ultimate acquisition. When I was at high school doing 7th Form painting I was obsessed with the Spanish artist Antoni Tapies, and I still love his work today. Recently walking around Art Basel in Hong Kong I stumbled upon a big Tapies painting and I said to myself that was what I’d most like to take home from that fair. It’s a bit nostalgic but I feel like it’s partly what set me on this course and it would be nice to be able to live with one.

If you could include any artist in your programme, who would it be?

There are many artists whose work I love, but it’s impossible to work with them all. The group of artists we currently work with are exceptional and I don’t feel like our programme is lacking in any way, or that any one new artist would change the game. We’ll start to work with new people and include other artists in the programme as and when it feels right for both parties. That process is perhaps more organic than it is calculated, for us anyway. I’m not sitting here thinking oh if only we could work with that person. Instead I’m focussed on the artists we do work with.

Share a memory of working with an artist?

When I first moved to London and was looking for work I somehow got this job de-installing a big Mike Nelson installation in Margate. It was just before Christmas and basically nobody else wanted to do it for love nor money. I knew Mike’s work as he had been in the Sydney Biennale in 2002 with a work that still sticks in my mind. So as much as anything I was keen to take it on as a chance to go down and see the show. I roped in a non art-world friend of mine and we happily set off pleased to be usefully employed.

We turned up at this space which was basically quite an expansive derelict building that Mike had used every aspect of, largely to snake a huge amount of plastic piping to hydroponically grow cannabis plants, as well as create fabrications of abandoned darkrooms with black and white prints scattered everywhere, serial killer style. As a show, it was pretty amazing. But the instruction from Mike was that he wanted to keep every little detail of the installation, and we were to carefully pack it all up, load it into a truck and drive it to Edinburgh.

We spent three or four very long days packing this up, and then set off on the road to Edinburgh. It’s a long drive between Margate and Edinburgh. Towards the end it was snowing, dark, and well past midnight. The instructions we had for the warehouse were vague at best but we found it, in the middle of nowhere. There were no lights inside or outside, so by the light of the trucks headlights we spent ages unloading the truck and carefully hanging up loads of cannabis plants, all the time numbing our feet by walking through quite thick snow. By the time we were finished it was Christmas Eve and we decided to ditch the truck and spend a large portion of our earnings on a flight back to London.

A few years later I met Mike Nelson properly. He was making another great and intricate work at the Frieze Art Fair. I reminded him I was the guy who had done that job. He said, oh my god that was you?! You know what, I’ve never even been into that warehouse, I don’t know why I kept all that stuff.

Despite all this, I’m still pleased I got the opportunity to do that job, and to see that show.

What could you imagine doing if you didn’t do what you do?

Probably something quite hands on and practical that involves making or creating something useful.

What is art for?

There are so many ways to answer this, but something that Francis Bacon once said comes to mind; “Great art is always a way of concentrating, reinventing what is called fact, what we know of our existence—a re-concentration… tearing away the veils that fact acquires through time.”

What are you reading / watching / listening to?

The book at the top of the stack next to my bed is, The Circuit: A Tennis Odyssey. It’s written by poet Rowan Ricardo Phillips, and follows the full calendar year of the 2017 ATP season. I’m always listening to a range of things but for a while now I’ve had my old Silver Jews records on quite high rotate along with last year’s Purple Mountains. David Berman is such a loss.

May 2020
Andrew Thomas is a director at Michael Lett Gallery, Auckland
Photo: David Straight