MCLEMOI: A Contemporary Commitment

With its vibrant blend of international and local artists MCLEMOI has quickly established itself as a destination for collectors. Helen McKenzie interviews Sara Leonardi-McGrath and Kristia Moises about their Sydney gallery.

Words: Helen McKenzie

Photography: Zan Wimberley

At a time when galleries are doing it tough – some are amalgamating, some are closing – two women, originally from Miami and friends since childhood, are boldly striking out with a gallery in Sydney’s inner city suburb of Chippendale that has the express aim to present exciting contemporary art. Sara Leonardi-McGrath and Kristia Moises have taken up the yin and the yang gallery roles. Leonardi- McGrath, with her background in business, attends to sales and marketing and Moises, as an ex-director of Perrontin Gallery Miami, concentrates on the art. The name MCLEMOI is an amalgam of the names of owners’ Glenn McGrath and wife Sara Leonardi- McGrath, and curator Kristia Moises.

You have been open for 18 months, what attracted you to Chippendale?
Moises: We thought it had an up and coming new edginess to it, not yet gentrified and had a vibe of cool new things. The White Rabbit around the corner with its international reputation offers a nice dialogue, as we present mainly international artists. We looked for about a year before we found what we were after. The building (which was once a sex toy warehouse) needed very little remodeling; the floor and walls form the perfect skeleton for a gallery. Leonardi-McGrath: The nearby Central Park development has encouraged new cafes, restaurants and pubs and will see about 15,000 people move into the area. Are they all art buyers? Anyone is an art buyer! It’s a fun, quirky neighborhood where the people and the businesses are genuinely committed to getting to know one another.

Some established gallerists said you were crazy to start a new gallery. What made you persist?

Leonardi-McGrath: I saw there was a gap in the market for bringing relevant international contemporary artists. People have done this in the past and haven’t been successful, not because they haven’t worked hard but I think these are different times. Now because of art fairs, if you are interested in art you travel, our advantage is time. I think there is a trend to being more open to exploring international art.

Moises: People are also more open to collaboration with other galleries and curators, staging different events, placing performance art with two or three- dimensional art.

You have presented well-regarded international artists Daniel Arsham, Diego Singh and Luis Gilbert and intend to show Jin Meyerson next year, as a new gallery has it been difficult to attract good international artists?

Leonardi-McGrath: It was a bit of a gamble on everyone’s side. But they knew what we had and we knew how good they were. The best part was all the artists we approached have exhibited in major museums, have works in major collections, are at the top of their game – were really excited to be showcasing in Australia. It was not a hard sell. They were all “fantastic when can we go.”

MCLEMOI also presents Australian born artists and others who have made their home here including Peter Burgess, Sarah Harvie and Fernando Do Campo. Leonardi-McGrath: We have a mega commitment to finding emerging Australian talent. We first saw sculptor Alexandra Standen’s work at the National Art School and Kristia discovered painter Guy Francis Smart whose work we have sold to some major collectors.

Moises: We will take on new artists and are always researching artists through the Internet, contacts and art fairs.

How are you trying to broaden the reach of your artists?

Leonardi-McGrath: We also like working with developers, architects and designers so works can be featured in the relevant context throughout Australia.

You seem to have a complementary partnership.

Moises: Sara and I have been sitting like this [beside each other] for 24 years.
Leonardi-McGrath: We love what we do. This is better than a marriage!

This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 66, OCT-DEC 2013. 

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