Twelve Questions
Jennifer Dann poses 12 questions to well-known faces

Twelve questions with Stephanie Post

By Jennifer Dann

Auckland Art Fair co-director Stephanie Post worked in some of London's top couture houses, dressing clients including Princess Diana, and as a crude oil trader for Shell before becoming an arts 'enabler'.
Auckland Art Fair director and art collector Stephanie Post in Remuera, Auckland. Photo / Getty Images
Auckland Art Fair director and art collector Stephanie Post in Remuera, Auckland. Photo / Getty Images

1 You studied biochemistry at university. How did you get into the art world?

In a roundabout way. My mother is a painter so I've grown up looking at art. I did biochemistry at university because I've always been interested in how living things work, especially genetics. University should be more about brain training rather than vocational.

2 Your first job was working in London's couture fashion industry for David and Elizabeth Emanuel, who designed Princess Diana's wedding dress. How did you get your break?

You just knock on doors, take a job for little or no money and make yourself invaluable. I've always loved fashion at that top end where it really becomes art and wanted to learn more about how the industry works. Watching the ladies hand-making and embellishing clothes to order was amazing - it's basically sculpting with fabric. It was my job to look after clients in the showroom and co-ordinate production of their orders. Our clients were actresses and models such as Bianca Jagger and members of royalty.

Princess Diana was a charming, beautiful and lovely lady - very sweet.

3 Why did you leave the fashion industry to work for Shell?

Shell asked me to manage their sponsorship of the Baftas. It was the biggest arts sponsorship in the UK at the time, 1 million a year. It was a really fun three years promoting British film and TV. Shell wanted to keep me on so I decided to try crude oil trading. My father worked at Shell so I grew up all over the world and I met my husband at Shell too.

4 What does crude oil trading involve?

A lot of crude oil trading is very practical, detailed work. You're basically selling black crude oil that's been dug out of the ground and shipping it to the refineries that can use it on a particular date. If you load the cargo late there's thousands of dollars in shipping costs (demurrage). I became very good at contract work. You have to work out the 'what ifs?' ahead of time and when problems do happen, work with your partners to solve them.

5 Did you ever worry about promoting the use of fossil fuels, given the effect on climate change?

Do you ever feel bad about the fact that you get into your car? Everyone in Auckland wants to drive but if we all got on bikes we'd be doing a lot more for the world. That oil was going to buy or sell regardless of my involvement. There are other things that keep me awake at night.

6 Is art a commodity?

No. I don't sell art. If I have any label, it would be an arts enabler. I provide opportunities. The Auckland Art Fair will have over 40 galleries from around New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific. Some are there to sell art. Others are there for exposure. For example, Michael Lett Gallery will show Eve Armstrong's Trading Table, where you can take something if you give something back. We have a non-commercial project, Pacific Real Time, about what it means to be part of the Pacific co-curated by Govett Brewster director Simon Rees and Jarrod Rawlins from Mona in Hobart.

7 The Auckland Art Fair is now owned by a corporate rather than a charitable trust. In what ways will it be different?

The charitable trust did an amazing job in creating a biannual event now attended by 10,000 people, but charitable trusts tend to exist year to year whereas the new owners, NorthPort Events, who run trade shows like the Baby Show and the Food Show, have put in massive investment because they see the long-term potential. We've got Peter Gordon curating the eateries.

8 How many visitors are you expecting this week?

We're expecting 12,000 visitors over the five days. We've appointed an independent selection panel (Justin Paton, Simon Rees, Dayle Mace and Hamish Keith) to decide which galleries warrant being there. We've had to turn a few galleries away because there isn't space for everybody. We want to create the kind of buzz that carries all of Auckland along in a celebration of contemporary art.

9 What kind of people go to art fairs?

There are the known, established collectors; people who buy art to live with but don't have the time to spend hours trawling the galleries; people who quite like art but don't know how to buy it yet and people who love art but can't afford it so come for the experience. A lot of people travel to see art. We've got several groups coming from Australia this year. I used to take tour groups to Frieze Art Fair in London. They're usually very knowledgeable, active collectors or arts supporters who go for the contacts and access their host can offer to curators or collections.

10 This year's fair-goers can get an interest-free loan to buy art. How does that work?

This non-profit model has become hugely successful overseas. It fosters the art market by making collecting art easier. I first saw it when the UK Arts Council started one about 10 years ago. You can borrow between $1000 and $25,000 interest-free and you get to take your art home straight away. You pay 10 per cent up front and the rest in monthly instalments. My Art is the first time it's been done in New Zealand. Most of the galleries at the fair have joined up. All you need to do is a quick credit check online or at the fair.

11 Your website provides a taste of what's on offer at the fair. Which works are you excited about seeing in the flesh?

Works from the Australian galleries, which I don't get to as often. Sarah Scout Presents is going to be a pretty cool booth. Roslyn Oxley9 is bringing new works by Isaac Julien, one of my favourite artists, and Tracey Moffatt, who is representing Australia at the next Venice Biennale. There will also be works by Lisa Reihana, New Zealand's next Venice Biennale artist, which you don't often see for sale.

12 Can I buy a piece of art for under $100?

Yes. Buying a limited edition of an art work is an affordable entry point to own work by highly regarded artists. We've invited nine not-for-profit galleries including Artspace, Gus Fisher and Te Tuhi to sell editions by top artists like Alex Monteith, Martin Basher and Fiona Clark. The concept comes from the Frieze Art Fair in London and we're trying it here for the first time. It's a great mechanism to support non-profit galleries which are the lifeblood of a healthy arts environment because they give artists space to experiment in ways they can't in a commercial setting. We've also got a pop-up art book store with independently published art books that you can't find in stores. So you may not be able to buy a piece of art but you can buy a really beautiful book.

www.artfair.co.nz

www.myart.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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