LIFESTYLE - INTERVIEW
Wednesday, August 1, 2018
Adrian Newstead, Founder and Director of Australia's Oldest Aboriginal Fine Art Gallery Cooee Art
LIFESTYLE - INTERVIEW
by Beren Dere
Adrian Newstead established Cooee Aboriginal art Gallery in 1981 in Paddington Sydney. Now Cooee Art is Australia's oldest Aboriginal Fine Art Gallery. With over 30 years experience, he is now an Aboriginal art consultant, dealer, and widely published art commentator. In 2014, Adrian Newstead shed light on the history of the Aboriginal art trade with the book 'The Dealer is the Devil' which took 6 years to write and publish. I had the chance to interview Aboriginal art expert Adrian Newstead, Founder and Director of Australia's Oldest Aboriginal Fine Art Gallery, Cooee Art. You can learn about Aboriginal Fine Art and Cooee Art in this interview.
Adrian Newstead at Bindi Arts with Aboriginal artist Billy Benn
Adrian, I know that it is hard to compress all your career to one question but could you briefly tell us about yourself?
I was born in Sydney and studied Agricultural Science at Sydney University before travelling the world in my 20s. I established Cooee Emporium in 1981 which, by 1985, had become Cooee Aboriginal Art Gallery. I was the co-founder and inaugural President of the Indigenous Art Trade Association (now the Aboriginal Art Association of Australia - AAAA) and am a former Director of Aboriginal Tourism Australia. In 2003, I began working as a consultant to Lawson-Menzies and was its Head of Aboriginal Art until 2007 when I was appointed Managing Director of the parent company Menzies Art Brands. In 2008 I returned to Cooee Art and worked on a book The Dealer is the Devil - an insider’s history of the Aboriginal art trade, while acting as the President of the Art Consulting Association of Australia. Today, almost 40 years since I began my first gallery, I act as an art advisor, Aboriginal art consultant, and art commentator while Cooee runs two exhibiting galleries and holds two Aboriginal and Oceanic Fine Art auctions annually. In 2014 I was honoured to be awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for my Service to the museum and galleries Sector, particularly through the promotion of Indigenous arts.
When did you first become interested in art? What inspired you?
My family was involved in the arts as I grew up and I was introduced to the visual and performing arts early in life. My mother was an actress and their close friends included artists, actors. I have visited galleries and gone to plays and concerts for as long as I can remember.
Cooee Art's Paddington, Sydney gallery
How did you decide to establish Cooee Art? What was your purpose?
I spent my 20s traveling and living mainly in third world countries. After studying Agricultural Science I was interested in development issues. I was fascinated by the craftworks of each culture. But being from a family in business I was not so much interested in the not for profit sector. After my return to Australia, I worked as a guide at the Sydney Opera House while researching and establishing Cooee Art. I began working with Aboriginal communities in 1981 when I held the first exhibition for Tiwi Design of Bathurst Island. By 1985, when prominent Aboriginal identity Joe Croft became my business partner, Aboriginal art had become my primary interest. During the following decade, I organised more than 100 exhibitions of Aboriginal art in Australia and overseas.
Please tell us about the Cooee Gallery, the overall concept, and 37 years that you left behind.
By 1985 Cooee had become principally an exhibiting gallery. It was 10 years before there would be computers or internet. Most remote Aboriginal communities did not even have a phone. Big industry events that brought all the players together were yet to occur. All communication was by typewritten letters with carbon copies. My wife, Anne, and I loved the outback and we began to spend up to 3 months each year travelling to these outback communities to work directly with the artists or nascent art centres.
Cooee Art's Bondi Beach gallery
What can we see now in Cooee Gallery, could you tell us about your active exhibition? Who are the artists? What is the concept?
Cooee now has the most extensive stockroom of any Indigenous art gallery in Australia with around 3000 works of art, sculpture, artefacts, and craft. Our exhibition schedule includes around 8 shows per year by the artists and communities we represent with several additional thematic shows drawn from our stockroom. The urban artists we show include Ngaranjerri artist Jacob Stengle, and Canberra based painter Helen Tiernan. We continue to work closely with the art centres in several communities like Lajamanu and Maningrida. Amongst the traditional artists that we have organised shows for this year is the Warlpiri artist Kitty Napanangka Simon. We hold auctions twice each year in which we showcase selected works by artists who represent the very best Aboriginal art created since the inception of the Aboriginal contemporary art movement.
What are the upcoming exhibitions in Cooee Gallery? Please share us the schedule and details of your upcoming exhibitions.
Next month we will be showing works by Blak Douglas (AKA Adam Hill) and the Darwin-based top-end artist Joshua Bonson. We are curating an Urban Walkabout exhibition to include selected political works from our gallery collection that goes back to the first Urban Koori shows in the early 1980s and we are currently selecting works for our stand at the Sydney Contemporary Art Fair at Carriageworks in Sydney for mid-September.
Cooee Gallery hosts different Aboriginal artworks throughout the year. What type of artworks can we see in Cooee Gallery?
Cooee is now in a unique position. We are able to show fine examples of artefacts that date back to the 1880s, Hermannsburg Watercolours from the 1950s onward created by more than a dozen artists, bark paintings from the 1960s and desert boards and canvases dating from the 1970s. We have lovely examples by a large number of the most important artists for the modern movement dating from the 1980s to the present day, and what we don’t have in stock we can gain access to through our consultancy.
Adrian Newstead and Emily Kngwarreye's masterpiece Earth's Creation I, which his CooeeArt MarketPace recently sold for $AUD2.1 million
Valuation and Collections Management are some of the services that you provide to your clients. How can an artwork owner learn the real value of it?
I have been a valuer for the Federal Government’s Cultural Bequests program since the mid-1990s and am accredited by both the Art Consulting Association of Australia and the Auctioneers and Valuers Association of Australia as a valuer of Aboriginal art and artefacts from the pre-contact period to the present day. As a consequence, I have undertaken valuations for most of the major state galleries and museums as well as dozens of regional and university galleries, and hundreds of private collectors. As a gallerist, dealer, and auctioneer I am ideally placed to understand the market and keep up with market values on a yearly basis.
You have been written a book about Aboriginal art market history, 'The Dealer is The Devil'. What do you think about the future of the Aboriginal art market?
The market for every taste culture is comprised of primary and secondary goods. In our case, new art being exhibited for the first time and old ’pre-loved’ art being re-entering the market. The vast majority of the most important Aboriginal art that will ever be produced already exists – it was made at a time when Aboriginal culture was practiced as it had been for up to 60,000 years. Today, the descendants of these artists continue to be endlessly inventive and creative but their art is different and will grow more so as time advances. It is still fascinating, worthy and singularly unique in terms of world culture and its expression through art. No matter where a collectors interest lies there will always be strong interest in the best works created by Aboriginal people.
Cover of Newstead's book, The Dealer is the Devil featuring the author with Warlpiri elder and artist Abie Jangala.
How is the art market in Sydney?
The market has shrunk as a number of galleries have closed in the last decade and the heady prices in the ‘Great Art Bubble’ period immediately prior to the Global Financial Crisis have stabilised at a lower, yet more sustainable level. I can’t speak for other businesses, but the Cooee Art galleries and its auction MarketPlace continues to thrive. We are not out to make huge profits, just run a successful business that serves the artists who we represent and promote their unique and fascinating material culture to the world.
What type of services do you offer for local and international buyers? Do you have white glove delivery and international shipping options?
Cooee Art sells up to 50% of all its art to international clients. We use the same professional carriers that service the visual art sector as the major institutions do and we get the most competitive prices through our long-term relationships with them and the quantity of business we bring them.
What is next for Cooee Art? How can our readers follow Cooee Art and your upcoming events on social media?
We are continuing to develop the art MarketPlace as a better alternative for sellers of quality Aboriginal art than the major established auction houses. As specialists in this field, we provide detailed artist profiles and market analytics on the lives and careers of the most collectable 200 artists on our website. This material that I have written personally is unparalleled. We also send out monthly installments of a blog I have written about Collecting Aboriginal Art which will build over the next 3 years into a 40,000-word on-line book covering every aspect of collecting this fascinating taste culture. Our next Art MarketPlace auction will be held on November 27th and the catalogue will be available and on-line in the first week of November 2018.
Our regularly updated website www.cooeeart.com.au is the most comprehensive site covering Australian Aboriginal art and artists in the world. We update our Facebook and Instagram sites on a weekly basis. @cooeegallery
Our exhibition O Tempo Dos Sonhos – The Time of Dreams has been touring Brazil for the past 3 years and is now on its way to Uruguay and Argentina. For more information on this view: cooeeart.com.au/news/news/1150/
Thank you Adrian for your time and answers.