Art dealer Trish Clark has a quick answer when asked if opening a new gallery is a sign of confidence in the economy. "No. It's a sign of great optimism and confidence in art," she shoots back.
The Trish Clark Gallery, in the Bowen Ave premises long vacated by Ryder Salon, opens next week with a multimedia group show called Re:Vision. It introduces a range of international artists such as Chilean Alfredo Jaar, American Marina Abramovic, Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan), Anthony McCall (a Briton long based in the United States) and Australian Shaun Gladwell, along with New Zealanders Stephen Bambury, Bruce Connew, John Edgar, Ann Robinson, Marie Shannon and Ann Shelton.
Her former assistant, New Zealand photographer Michael Ghent, who is based in Paris, is in the show, as is her friend Billy Apple, courtesy of his dealer, Starkwhite Gallery. Apple has contributed a photo of himself as a young man when he transformed himself from Barrie Bates to Apple, with the aid of the bottle of Lady Clairol bleach he is holding in the picture.
"I didn't want to open with a solo show," says Clark. "I wanted to show my vision for the gallery. I wanted something that spoke to the vision that artists have and the nature of revisioning the way we think about art. I get very tired of the focus on the market and I want to bring people's focus back on to the art."
Although Clark has worked in the arts for 32 years, she has largely flown under the radar. After opening Artis Gallery in Parnell in 1984, she quit after five years to care for her children.
"I wanted to bring up my children myself rather than nannies so I made the decision to pull back from the gallery. A gallery demands an intensity of a relationship with the artists, an intensity of commitment, as does your relationship with your children, and I felt deeply conflicted. I couldn't give my best energy to either."
Instead, Clark took on roles as art consultant to clients like Fay Richwhite and established the Moet & Chandon New Zealand Art Foundation in 1988, which she ran for nine years. She was also involved with the trust board of the New Zealand Maritime Museum and Auckland Council's advisory panel for public art. But the dream of one day running another gallery was always alive.
"When I left Artis I swore to myself that I would have another gallery once the children had left home. My two children are now 34 and 30 and my youngest is 18 and has moved to Wellington to study architecture. I started thinking about this two years ago and started to talk to some artists. Then I went overseas and when I came back I was diagnosed with melanoma.
"I was recuperating when I came across this building which has been vacant since June 2012," she says. "I walked through that door in September 2012. It looked terrible. But it was an instantaneous decision and it has been a very long haul to negotiate the lease. I got the agreement in February and went hell-for-leather."
Clark loves the gallery's soaring ceilings, and the light that pours in through the wall of tall windows which look across to the edges of Albert Park. "It was important to me that if I was going to go back into a gallery that I had to have an appropriate building. I am too old, I am 60 next year, to go and sit in some s*** hole every day. Otherwise I might as well stay being a consultant."
She describes the international artists in the opening show as "super-famous in the rest of the world but unknown in New Zealand and pretty unknown in Australia too".
"My ambition is to introduce these people to this part of the world. I brought Anthony McCall out in 2010 for a project in the big Silo on the waterfront under the public art spend. It was interesting to see his response to New Zealand, as with nearly all visiting artists and curators. They are amazed by the activity here and the energy, the creativity. They don't expect see that, so far away. Anthony was blown away."
Re:Vision runs until early June, followed by a series of solo shows by Phil Dadson, Bruce Connew, Ann Shelton, Stephen Bambury and Shaun Gladwell. A group show called Home will run through December-January, then an exhibition of works by Anthony McCall will reveal why his work is collected by galleries such as Tate Britain and Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Where and when: Trish Clark Gallery, 1 Bowen Ave, to June