Australian Art Dealer Vivienne Sharpe’s Armory Committee Experience

Australian Art Dealer Vivienne Sharpe’s Armory Committee Experience
Darren Sylvester at Sullivan + Strump's Volta booth
(Sullivan and Strumpf)

Although the only visible Australian presence at the 2013 edition of New York’s Armory Week was Sullivan + Strumpf’s exhibition of Australian artist Darren Sylvester at Armory offshoot Volta NY, respected Australian art dealer and art collector Vivienne Sharpe was flying the flag for Australia behind the scenes as part of the Armory Show Centennial Committee.

Launched to mark the 100th anniversary of the fair’s namesake, the legendary Armory Show of 1913, the Committee has been established to recognize the support and long standing commitment of a group of leading American and international collectors.

As the only Australian member of the inaugural Armory Show Centennial Committee, Sharpe is essentially acting as the sole representative of the Australian art scene at one of the world’s most influential art fairs  a position of great responsibility.

“It’s been an intensive week  The Armory this year has certainly risen to the challenge and occasion,” says Sharpe. “More than 60,000 people visited the show during the 5 days it was on. The quality of the fair layout and exhibits were excellent as were their ancillary events and VIP programme. We were also busy 24/7 getting around to all the other art fairs that exhibit in tandem with The Armory.”

With regards to Sullivan + Strumpf’s exhibition of Australian artist Darren Sylvester at Volta, according to Gallery Director Ursula Sullivan the fair was a great success. “Darrens work went over very well, particularly the masks,” Sullivan explains. Two of the artist’s bronze masks were sold to the major Dutch entrepreneur and art collector Herman Heinsbroek who is in the process of opening his own museum.

To find out more about her role as a member of the inaugural Armory Show Centennial Committee, ARTINFO AUSTRALIA got in contact with Vivienne Sharpe to ask her a few questions about the Committee and the Australian art market.

Describe your role as a member of the Armory Show Committee?

My role is that of an ambassador.  Being a long term supporter of The Armory Art Show,  I have been coming to New York for the fair since 1999 and have met and made friends with many collectors and dealers. As possibly the only regular attendee from our region, my role is both to promote The Armory wherever possible in Australia to both galleries and collectors alike.

What led to your involvement with the Committee?

A relationship with the past Director of The Armory, Paul Morris as well as Debbie Harris, Director of the Armory Show - Modern, both persuaded me to participate in the VIP programme opening my apartment and showing my collection to VIP visitors at the fair.  I have done this over several years. The VIP private views are a feature of the Armory week and are most popular.  

What does your experience as an Australian art dealer bring to the Committee?

The Armory week brings together collectors and dealers from literally everywhere — Asia, South America, North America and Europe.  I hope my enthusiasm for Australian Contemporary Art introduces some of these collectors and dealers to another artistic dimension.  I have some indigenous Australian works in my New York collection and they are always much admired. 

What can the Australian art market learn from the American market?

Art fairs, such as The Armory, are now a very important part of a galleries exhibition and sales programme.  Some of the major international commercial galleries exhibit in up to 12 art fairs annually.

Unfortunately Australian Art receives very little exposure in the Northern Hemisphere with the exception of a few artists and galleries. Patricia Piccinini, Bill Hensen, David Noonan, Ricky Swallow and James Angus have international representation. There needs to be further debate involving public arts bodies on how best the expose more Australian artists abroad.  The exhibition of Australian art at the Royal Academy in London in September is a good initiative.  

As well, several Australian Galleries make the journey. Sullivan and Strumpf from Sydney exhibited at Volta Fair (The Armory’s younger sibling) and recently at London’s Art 13 fair, Jan Minchin’s Tolarno Galleries put on a great show.  Roslyn Oxley will be exhibiting at Frieze Art Fair in New York in May.  It is to be hoped that more Australian galleries will have the means and ability to follow suit.  

How have you benefited from being on the Committee?

While The Armory is a commercial show it also is a forum for meeting many other like minded collectors and gallerists, exchanging views on the direction of contemporary art, and discovering critically acclaimed young artists who may be the next Kiefer, Koons or Freud. 

For me personally, as a collector coming from Australia, a show such as The Armory affords an overview of international contemporary art condensed into one week, together with the museum exhibitions and ancillary forums and events.