In 2008, when Hugo Michell opened his gallery in Beulah Park in Adelaide’s east, one of his main goals was to break down the barriers around contemporary art and open it up to a wider audience. The gallery represents a broad range artists at all stages of their practices; from established artists like Janet Laurence and Ildiko Kovacs, to mid-career artists like Trent Parke and Richard Lewer to younger artists, including Stanislava Pinchuk and Amy Joy Watson.
In addition to his main gallery space, Michell also operates a project space, which gives many artists the opportunity to exhibit commercially for the first time. “With the emerging artists, one of the things we try and do is involve the younger generation with the gallery, because I guess I’m one of the younger dealers,” explains Michell.
The gallery also hosts the annual Young Collectors exhibition aimed at introducing the next generation to collecting contemporary art. The gallery’s artists create artworks for under $2,000 and there’s a party with DJs and cocktails. “I think it can be a bit confronting and daunting when you walk into an empty gallery, which they quite often are, you can feel a bit self conscious asking questions. So the whole idea with Young Collectors is to bring all these people in and put on a party so they feel welcome to come back again.”
For Michell, a career in the art world wasn’t necessarily his life long dream but thanks to his mother, an avid art collector and philanthropist, Michell was taken to galleries and art fairs when he was young and eventually it clicked. Another early influence was his friendship with fellow Adelaide dealer Paul Greenaway, from whom his mother bought a lot of her art.
“He [Greenaway] used to get me to help out, more I think to keep me busy, but he was really good to me at an early age. I used to help pack down shows and hang shows with him. When I started helping him out at art fairs I thought ‘this is great’. I still love art fairs,” says Michell.
It was at one of these art fairs that he met Jan Minchin from Tolarno Galleries, where he worked for three years, whom he cites as a mentor and probably the person who has had the greatest impact on his career. “She was a driving force behind my opening the gallery,” he says. “It was something I always liked the idea of but I thought I was a long way off doing it. She was the one that encouraged me and said ‘no, this is when you start it, right now’.”
Michell heeded Minchin’s advice and almost eight years on the gallery is going strong, with an impressive annual program precenting local, interstate and international artists. The latest addition to the gallery stable is Melbourne artist William Mackinnon. For Michell, taking on a new artist is not something he does lightly, he likes to build a relationship with them first and really understand their work. “You can’t know anything for sure but I like to think the artists I’m taking on will be making art when they are 80 years old. I work really hard for my artists so I want to know that they are going to put in as much effort.”
While the role of commercial galleries and gallerists is evolving to extend beyond gallery walls, Michell still believes in the bricks and mortar gallery structure. “I am still all for the gallery make up. I love exhibiting work and creating exhibitions. I love having a gallery and I would never want it any other way.”
This article was published in Art Collector issue 74, OCT – DEC 2015.