My ART | Gallerist: Dan du Bern

Gallerist: Dan du Bern

Gallerist: Dan du Bern

Are you a gallerist or an art dealer?

I feel that the title ‘gallerist’ is the more apt title for my role. At Sumer the gallery and our exhibition programme is crucial to our operation; therefore a gallerist, as being someone who is ‘of a gallery’, seems right. I also like the way that the term gallerist suggests a role which is just part a larger team; both in terms of running a professional operation with staff, but also a gallery which works closely with the artists whose work they present.

Why did you open your gallery?

My wife Courtney and I returned to New Zealand a few years ago and were looking for a commercial space in Tauranga / Mount Maunganui for us to base our art services business from, when we came across a space which was ideal for a gallery. So, that along with the encouragement of friends within the industry – who urged us to be bold and take a risk – was all that we needed.

The gallery has enabled us to promote the work of artists we really want people to collect. It also performs a social function, providing local audiences and collectors, with a space where they can come and experience a variety of contemporary art by some of the country’s best. Work that they would otherwise not be able to see. We love this.

Add any work of art to your personal collection?

I think my answer would be different every time I am asked this question! Right at this very moment it would probably be something truly beautiful, like Pierre Bonnard’s Self Portrait (c. 1938) or his Nude in the Bath (1936). I love both these paintings, for their prosaic subject – a self-portrait in a bathroom mirror and his partner, Marthe de Méligny, lying in a bath – and for the artist’s treatment of colour, light and space. They are ethereal and effervescent – joyful.

Share a memory of working with an artist?

From my time spent working as an art tech in London and Zürich, I’ve been lucky enough to have experience working with some pretty big names in the art world. As you’d imagine, working in Europe was an eye opener in terms of the scale of production and the excesses of the international blue-chip art market. This was back in the late 2000s so I can hardly imagine what it is like these days.

Nevertheless, I would have to say that one of the most memorable and rewarding experiences of working with an artist was assisting Peter Robinson with the installation of his gargantuan Snow Ball Blind Time at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth in 2008 (later shown at Cockatoo Island, Sydney).

Peter is an artist whose work I have greatly admired, ever since art school. So, to return from Europe and immediately start working on such an ambitious large-scale project by him was a real treat. Peter was a true pleasure to work for: engaged yet light-hearted and easy-going throughout – a true pro. For those of us who were working for him, we always felt that our efforts were greatly appreciated and this is not always the case with artists. To my mind Peter is undoubtedly one of the best artists this country has seen.

Identify a common misconception about collecting, and help us set the record straight?

The statements “I have to love it” or “I know what I like…” are two phrases that gallerists tend to hear a lot. In my opinion viewing art becomes a most pleasurable experience when one comes to it with open eyes and an open mind. Many collectors who build a collection that they find truly rewarding will invariably contain works which they may have been quite unsure about to begin with, and might not have fitted their initial brief.

I am a strong believer that while art is most certainly subjective, art is not, as the saying goes, only “in the eye of the beholder”. We have experts in our field like any other, and despite what some would like to have us to believe, connoisseurship is not dead.

What was the last work of art you bought?

A small text painting by Jerome Ngan-Kee / Mercy Pictures, which they showed at Mercy Pictures the end of the last year. It’s a canvas the size of a book, consisting of a print of the cover of Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel Serotonin, over which the following text has been printed: “It is a painting on board – the geometric forms representing the energy of the individual that has been worn away by societal pressures.”

What should change?

 At this moment in time the prospect of change is weighing on a lot of our minds. I think most of us will be facing some serious challenges over the short term, both financial and social. The economic impact of the pandemic will be monumental and I think many of us are hoping that the changes can be for the better rather than worse.

I’m very much of the opinion that the ‘sure as houses’ approach to investing (over multiple decades) has had a serious impact on both New Zealand society and business wellbeing. Speculating on residential property is morally questionable when one considers it has such socially divisive outcomes: resulting in people being priced out of the market (for something which has been deemed a basic human need). And it also unnecessarily ties up vast amounts of capital, which could be more effectively used to fund business activities, infrastructure and utilities, and of course art and culture.

Perhaps this pandemic may shake this persistent popular view that property is the only stable form of investment? I certainly hope so! I think that the world will be a better place if people think about investing their money more broadly and creatively: be it within conventional asset classes and within alternative investments such as art. I think we will be all the better for it.

What should remain the same?

Artists having the ability to create things, and situations, that are both eloquent and beautiful, and conversely challenging, and at times traumatic. Artists making work which engages and challenges us to think.

I would also like to think that we can continue to live in a liberal secular society, which is broadminded and kind and accepts people for who they are; celebrating both excellence and diversity.

Why collect?

Because art matters.

Art encourages us to think laterally and deeply; to be creative and broad-minded. It shows our commonalities as humans, as well as our differences. Collecting art brings character and warmth to a home in a way that other material goods seldom, if ever, do. And furthermore, having the privilege of living with works enables their owners to familiarise themselves with such works over an extended period, which enables them to engage with works in a way in a manner which is simply not possible by just visiting a gallery or museum.

Importantly, buying art supports artists. Collecting art is a key way in which individuals can enable artists to sustain practices.

April 2020
Dan du Bern is director of Sumer, Tauranga
Photo: Courtney Lucas