An image of the dealer lingers. Their name in quiet small type on the door, up a flight of stairs, white rooms, a desk around the corner, down the end. There, an earnest personage dressed in black, absorbed in important reading and writing.
That’s not how David Alsop rolls. Establishing Suite in Wellington in 2007, April 2020 sees him open a second gallery space in Auckland. In Wellington you’ll find Suite on historic, character-laden Cuba Street. Almost floor-to-ceiling windows welcome the kind of all-comers who don’t usually visit dealers. Auckland’s Ponsonby Road will be the same. “We’ve got a nine-metre wall, people are going to be able to drive past and see it,” says Alsop. “It’s a street-front gallery, so I want people to look in all the time.”
In a courtyard out the back of the Wellington space, giant versions of legendary photographer Ans Westra’s black-and-white images of grey Wellington of the 1960s and 1970s wallpaper the hoardings. Upstairs there’s a wee museum dedicated to the octogenarian’s practice, for which Suite is agent. Come autumn, the courtyard is the set for a street festival DJ series. Then you won’t be able to move in the gallery for punters.
“I guess the way I came to the profession of art dealing was a little different to most,” says Alsop. “Having been a huge and passionate supporter [of the arts] and collected work myself, I set Suite up from scratch. Others come to the profession with quite intimate relationships, having worked for other galleries or art institutions first. I don’t have to defer to anyone.”
Alsop began in another old wooden shopfront in Newtown, where I reviewed his first group show. Then to Cuba Street, and the current premises after a shorter time down the road above McLeavey Gallery. “I took on this big space in Cuba Street and haven’t looked back. I use the entire building to promote art. Even putting imagery onto vehicles, having good signage, I feel like it’s well known that we have a public approach.” Alsop says he’s always coming up with strategies to make the gallery more transparent to a new audience. “About how much things cost, for example,” he says.
The history of dealers opening second spaces in New Zealand with longevity isn’t great, and Suite is the first Wellington dealer to open in Auckland in 25 years. Yet Alsop has proven his business smarts. And he’s good at recognising new territory.
His gallery is in the nice position of opening with a stable of well recognised artists who don’t show in Auckland currently. Like perennial Suite favourite Wayne Youle, or the late great photographer Peter Peryer. Then there’s new artists: the interesting amalgam of ceramics and handwoven material of Tia Ansell, for example. Ansell is Wellington-born, Auckland-raised but a recent graduate of the Victorian College of Arts in Melbourne. She’ll show in the Auckland space later this year.
Opening in Auckland with a fresh set of artists reflects Alsop’s particular interests since the gallery’s beginnings: supporting Wellington artists, as well as painting and photography. While Wellington has many art dealers, most tend to represent artists from around the country, reflecting the city’s role as capital. That can make it hard for local artists to get a look in. Suite has been representing these artists in Auckland through art fairs for years now, and the market for their work has grown with the gallery. “It’s as calculated a risk as I can make it!” says Alsop. “And I’ve made it as easy as I can at both ends with logistics and staff.” Auckland will be managed by Briar Williams, who has worked in galleries and auction houses in New Zealand and Australia previously, while Wellington has been managed for three years by Craig Beardsworth.
As for Wellington’s future? “There are logical review points coming, with Ans’ lifetime, because she’s such a cornerstone in Wellington and we’re set up very well to operate beyond her lifetime.” Alsop concludes confidently: “If Auckland does get as much traction as I expect, the challenge for the artists will be making enough work.”
This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 92, APR-JUN 2020.