Design: Breaking down the art barrier

Go with your gut when it comes to buying art. Ben Crawford explains how

The first time I walked into an Auckland art gallery I was intimidated. I'd only just moved to town from Southland and until that point, the closest gallery experience I'd had was Dad's office filled with his hunting trophies and old schoolboy photos.

It's not like I walked into that inner-city gallery playing a banjo, it's just that there weren't too many opportunities to explore art exhibitions while I was growing up down south. So the thought of entering this flash-as arty environment was pretty daunting.

I didn't study art at school but I've always appreciated it. And while I don't own a huge collection just yet, I instantly know when I like a piece. I can't articulate why, it's just a gut feel.

I'm not drawn to the classics, I prefer contemporary works instead. You know the kind most people reckon their kids could do in their sleep. But that's the beauty of art, there's something out there to suit everybody's taste, style and budget.

It's fair to say that I'm itching to check out New Zealand's premier contemporary art event, the Auckland Art Fair next week at The Cloud on the waterfront. In fact I was lucky enough to be invited to the home of the event's director Jennifer Buckley to learn a little more about this biennial showcase of art from Downunder.

As well as a beautiful home, Jennifer's Grey Lynn property also acts as a private gallery for her stunning art collection. Sitting in her living room surrounded by these amazing works curated over a lifetime, Jennifer, the owner of a respected Auckland gallery, instantly relates to my story about venturing into an art dealer's for the first time.

"Galleries are intimidating" she agrees. "You walk into a big, empty space with someone at the back of the room and you're expected to engage, either with them or the art. It's easy to see why people are scared of feeling silly. But once you get to know a gallery owner and their space, the barrier is magically broken."

It's stories like mine that inspired the establishment of the Auckland Art Fair in 2005.

Over four days, 40 of New Zealand's and Australia's leading galleries will present exhibitions by the region's most sought-after artists ensuring art, artists and art society is made more approachable.

The Cloud provides a neutral space where any snobbery is left at door. The event is a giant appreciation of art and fosters a community among attendees and exhibitors, from students to knights and dames who mingle together in the same area.

I'll definitely be heading along because it's like a year's worth of gallery visits harmoniously combined into a single day. And with the artists coming and going, hourly guided tours of the exhibitions and regular expert seminars, I'm pretty sure I'll learn a lot, too. I just wish I'd known about the Auckland Art Fair when I first moved to town.

Jennifer's tips for breaking the art barrier

1. Start going to galleries as often as you can. You don't need to buy anything and the gallery owners aren't expecting you to. They're happy to share their knowledge and to help you enjoy art. Pretty soon you will get a feel for it and you'll learn what you are drawn to and why.

2. You don't have to start buying art with a specific goal or end point in mind. Collecting can be organic, growing by simply buying what intrigues you.

3. Don't buy art to match your sofa. Even if you absolutely love your sofa.

4. If Jennifer started her collection again she'd buy a lot more photography. There are some incredible New Zealand photographers and their work is extremely well priced.

5. When hanging your art, don't feel like you have something on every wall. Instead, try focusing intensely on one area to create impact with a cohesive focal point, even if you only have a handful of pieces.

Auckland Art Fair 2013, August 7-11, The Cloud, Queen's Wharf.

- Herald on Sunday

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