Words: Briony Downes
Photography: Bianca Woolhouse
Speaking on the phone from Perth, gallerist Margaret Moore tells me there is a “level of endurance” when it comes to working in the arts. Taking the past few years into account, it’s hard to disagree. With all its challenges and rewards, for Moore the arts have forged a constant and solid foundation for a career lasting more than three decades. Growing up in country Victoria, Moore initially studied at art school before switching her focus to art history at university. From there she went on to curatorial positions at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) before moving to Perth to take up a contract with the Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA). Over time, she became Curator of Contemporary Art, working with the late John Stringer on several significant acquisitions for its permanent collection.
The following years contained varied posts as a curator, a consultant for private and corporate art collections and a board member for organisations like the Perth International Arts Festival, the Advisory Board of the Fremantle Biennale, and the Murdoch University Art Collection Board. Passionate about supporting the arts in her home state and looking for a new challenge, Moore opened her own gallery Moore Contemporary in Perth in 2017. Now promoting the work of artists including Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Marion Borgelt and Pilar Mata Dupont, the success of the gallery reflects Moore’s personal warmth and nimble ability to shift and roll with change. “I’m someone who likes to keep moving forward and progress in life,” Moore admits. “In a way, you are always reinventing yourself. You invent your own interests and stimulus. When I started the gallery, it was the right time for me and the right time for Perth.”
Acknowledging the geographical distance Perth holds from the rest of Australia, Moore feels living on the west coast arms people with a fierce determination.
“There is a real challenge with Perth being a very isolated city. You do feel like you must work a bit harder to get exposure and traction. That said, it’s also incumbent on people who live here to do that. You put yourself out there.” This determination is reflected in the artists Moore represents and the individual qualities she is drawn to. “I do choose to work with people with a certain level of dedication or aspiration,” she says. “Artists choose their gallerist too. That’s the strength of commercial galleries – when it is a very real partnership, and you are both working to the same end.” Looking ahead, Moore Contemporary has its sights set on expanding the reach of its artists into the Southeast Asia region.
A fashion-forward wordsmith and conversationalist, Moore’s solid reputation is built on years of nurturing connections with artists, galleries, and institutions across Australia. Going back to her tenure at the AGWA, she recalls several memorable experiences. “I remember securing a major Hilda Rix Nicholas painting for the collection, which was significant as so few of her works survived a house fire.” Further acquisitions included Rosalie Gascoigne’s Monaro, 1989, a sizeable work reflecting the patterns of wind across a wheat field (most recently shown in Know My Name: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now at the NGA) and paintings by revered artist and Anmatyerre elder, Emily Kame Kngwarreye. “Whether my name is attached to a work is irrelevant as I was contributing to a whole,” Moore adds. “Although I did have someone speak to me the other day about one of their favourite works in the gallery – a 1992 Jenny Watson work called 18. I was so excited because it was one of the works I brought in.”
Moore’s time at the AGWA established a fondness for Perth and she remains a dedicated resident. “Working at the AGWA was a great joy and a fitting introduction to living in Perth, I’m really grateful for that experience,” Moore says. “All the state collections are fabulously interesting, and I think it is a great privilege to work with any of them.” Immersing herself in the west coast art scene, Moore continues to stride into the future, championing the artists she represents in the best way she knows how. “I feel like I’ve always been an observer. I observe what works, what doesn’t, what qualities I like in situations and what I don’t. It’s about being open to people and circumstances, and how they may impact on how you move through the world.”