Avid art collector Luisa Catanzaro first harboured thoughts of owning a gallery in the early 1990s. “I started gallery hopping and doing the rounds more than 25 years ago. I have a very large collection and my running joke is that I started thinking about having a gallery as I ran out of wall space at home,” she says with a grin.
Two key considerations made Catanzaro’s transition to gallery ownership progress at a conservative pace. Firstly, there was finding the right space. Secondly, she did not want to give up her day job as a Chief Financial Officer. Catanzaro describes her role in the finance world as “an agent for change” – managing the funding, buying, selling and floating of companies.
Viewing an available but unsuitable space in the Sydney suburb of Rozelle, Catanzaro declared to the real estate agent that what she would really like is something like that – pointing to an old heritage fire station across the street. A year or so passed and out of the blue, Catanzaro received a call from an unrelated property agent offering an inspection of the admired building. A low false ceiling and the many small partitioned pokey offices that housed a publishing enterprise within could not disguise the potential Catanzaro envisaged for an airy, open gallery space.
“I brought in a building inspector and he went up a ladder to look in through the ceiling at the roof space. He said ‘oh my God, you better come and have a look’. I climbed up the ladder and said ‘we have got to have this building’. I opened the whole place up to its original heritage status. It looked nothing like this when I bought it,” Catanzaro gestures to the beautifully restored building, its soaring timber ceilings in the main gallery and the decorative pressed metal ceilings in the second space. “A few years later I set up Artereal.”
With the gallery space locked in, Catanzaro was left with the career dilemma to solve. “I love the finance element and I love the arts element, she says. “I thought, how can I have both at the same time? I wasn’t willing to give up either.”
True to form as a successful CFO and accustomed to nutting problems out on paper, Catanzaro devised a business model for the gallery. “It is not top down or dictatorial in any sense. It is far more collaborative, consensus driven, team style,” she explains. “Barbara Dowse is our senior curator for the main space, Rhianna Walcott is our gallery manager and curator for the second space, Noula Diamantopoulos (who is also a psychotherapist, artist and teacher) is managing director and business coach. It is a very different model to a lot of other galleries. But it works, because we have similar view points, similar philosophies and are all passionate about how we see the space.”
Artereal is now in its 10th year and has a stable of more than 20 artists. Walcott, who has been with the gallery for seven years, takes on the difficult question: Is there a definable gallery aesthetic? “What links most of our artists is an attitude of experimentation,” she explains. “Most are pushing boundaries, either conceptually or through the materials they employ. Our artists tend to be a bit more cutting edge.”
As a gallery, Artereal also likes to push the conventional artistic representational boundaries by supporting performance art seasons, car park showings of video art, guest curator shows and mentorships for art school honours graduates. The gallery has participated in Melbourne and Sydney art fairs and is on the look out for interesting international opportunities for its artists. With a broad smile Catanzaro says: “I feel we might have been the only commercial gallery with a strategic plan, we are nimble, agile, not static and we love exploring change.”
This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 76, APR – JUN 2016.