Commercially minded

First published in Australian Art Collector, Issue 61, July – September 2012

Jane O’Sullivan talks to Amanda Rowell, who is breaking away from Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery to start her own venture in inner city Sydney.

Roslyn Oxley’s long-serving right hand has left to launch her own gallery. Amanda Rowell, who has been gallery manager at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in Sydney since 2001, has opened up shop on Abercrombie Street in Redfern near Gallerie Pompom and DNA Projects.

Rowell, who has also worked with Frank McDonald at Thirty Victoria Street and with the late Eva Breuer, has a career in commercial galleries spanning almost 15 years. “I am conscious of the small size of the art world in Australia,” says Rowell. “It is really a game of numbers. The question of which artists get the leg-ups from galleries is dependent upon the few individuals making those decisions in the small number of galleries that there are. Many very good and interesting artists get overlooked or do not currently have commercial gallery representation for various other reasons.”

The Commercial, as she’s calling the gallery, is her attempt to “shape something new”. It has started with a group of 12 Australian artists, none of whom are currently represented elsewhere, including Agatha Gothe-Snape, Hossein Ghaemi and Robert Pulie. Most are still in the early stages of their careers however some have more mature practices. Rowell will also stage project-based exhibitions and, as a freelance writer, is especially excited about the chance to foster experimental writing through the gallery.

As for the cheeky name, it’s an unusual one in a world that usually tries to mask the more retail or market oriented aspects of the business. “When people heard that I was going to open a gallery, they would ask ‘Is it going to be a commercial gallery?’ as though I would do something else,” she says. “The Commercial says it how it is. It also sounds better than Amanda Rowell Gallery.”

She is, however, careful to point out how much respect she has for commercial galleries and other dealers – Oxley in particular, who she says she has been “hugely privileged” to have had the chance to work with – so the name is perhaps more a reflection of her plainspeaking take on life than a snide shot across the bows of her former employers.

Rowell hasn’t completely severed ties with Oxley, though the question of whether she will still work there is “somewhat open and in flux,” as she delicately puts it. “It is likely that I will continue to do some project-based work with her for a while at least, although The Commercial is an entirely independent venture of mine.” And if Rowell has taken on anything from her former mentors, it’s safe to say she will be a very canny operator. Expect interesting things.