In conversation with Tautahi Subritzky
If you’ve had the pleasure of reclining at the washbasins in colleen lately, you would have noticed the work on display by local artist Cat Fooks, represented by Anna Miles Gallery.
Tau sat down with the person behind the gallery, Anna Miles herself, to find out a little more about how the gallery came to be, her thoughts on the contemporary art scene today and of course, a chat about hair and beauty.
Hi Anna, Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. For those who may not know you, can you give us a brief introduction to who you are and what you do?
I am an art dealer and work with an incredible group of artists and people interested in what they do. The gallery is located on Upper Queen Street in a building, back from the street, with a surprising view over a little known pocket of the Symonds St cemetery. The exhibitions are the visible part of what the gallery does. They change every month or so. I hope the space is very welcoming and a step off the street into another world.
Can you tell us how Anna Miles Gallery came into existence?
It was 2003 and I had gained a lot of experience writing as an art critic. I started the gallery because it dawned on me that it would be more critical to be a champion than a critic. It took a combination of extreme experiences to push me off my risk-averse perch. My day job was becoming an unpleasant wrestling exercise, one of my parents was dying, and then I was invited to go on a trek in the Himalayas by the artist, Sarah Hillary. Surviving 19 days at high altitude made me wonder how hard it could really be to open a gallery.
How do you choose the artists you represent?
I have to love their work and regard it as exceptional. Individuals who can’t be prevented from doing what they do are very persuasive. What they do is less important than how they do it. I distrust hierarchical judgments about the relative importance of different art forms and think the range of art offered up by contemporary art institutions is unfortunately narrow. If a dealer gallery is serious it needs to be prepared to stand behind art and artists that people, including experts, don’t yet get.
Where do you think your passion for the art world stems from?
I went to art school, but it was discovering the thrill of drawing as a kid growing up in 1970’s Wellington. My parents were very encouraging. There was a large loom in their bedroom and a photographic darkroom in the laundry. Many kinds of art were revered in that house. My father’s aunt had left Wellington in 1928 to go to art school in Paris. From this skerrick of family information, art became central to the sophisticated, emancipated adult life I was imagining for myself. Both my sisters became orchestral musicians (although one has since bucked the trend by retraining as a sports writer).
Can you tell us what you’re excited/inspired by the most in the realm of contemporary art today?
The appreciation of the importance of the imaginative life is high in the difficult times we live in. At the same time, the tired, monolithic thinking that has determined cultural hierarchies for too long is more widely doubted than it once was. I hope this means we will see a lot more of the work of what art critic Peter Schjeldahl calls, “a class of creators whose testimony has tended to be patronised even when heeded.” I think it is very exciting to live in Aotearoa today and witness the material cultural consequences of the processes of decolonisation.
We could definitely keep the questions coming regarding your work as a gallerist Anna, but perhaps it’s time to start wrapping this thing up with some of our more lighthearted and lol questions.
Can you tell us one of the most memorable times you’ve had working as a gallerist?
Being in it for the long haul affords the kind of view you cannot get in a single gallery visit. Artists feed on the culture but they also alter it. To see artists develop new ways of seeing, thinking and feeling, excites me. The artist, Edith Amituanai has made her own form of art. From a documentary photography foundation she has turned a photography practice with a social focus into a social practice that uses photography. In her hands, the camera is a tool of relationship building. Brilliant.
What advice would you give someone looking to start their own collection?
Be panoramic —pay attention to the greatest range of art that you can. There is probably a greater concentration of galleries here than in any comparable city in the world. The art ecosystem is fragile but richly textured. Galleries range from small artist-run spaces to large public museums, dealer galleries, academic institution galleries, community galleries. ‘Fingers’ on Kitchener St (opposite Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki) is the oldest contemporary jewellery collective in the world. Visit all of these places to get your eye in. Talk to artists and dealers. I think it is worthwhile to understand that when art sells at auction there is rarely a benefit to the artist (the resale royalty scheme has not come into force yet and it will not materially alter this fact much for many living artists).
We’ve all had a hair look from the past that we look back on and cringe, what was yours? Can we please have photo evidence?
Obviously teenage experimentation can return frightening results. I recall (but hope I have destroyed all trace) of a mullet-ish style meted out to me by an ultra cool Wellington salon of the mid 1980’s. Think a slightly more toned down version of Joan Cusack’s “do” in her role as ‘Cyn’ in the 1988 film, Working Girl.
What’s your most frequent online purchase?
What lives on your shower shelf?
Poetically-named and extravagant shampoos prescribed by Sean of colleen.
Any hair or beauty concerns? How are you dealing with them?
I’m old school, as long as my teeth are clean and I’ve got my lipstick on, I don’t focus on much else. I do, however, recommend delegating your hair to the pros.
What’s happening next in the world of Anna Miles Gallery?
Two great new exhibitions opening this Saturday 28 October 2023: Richard Stratton’s Reverse Monopoly Big Wigs, an exhibition of his latest teapots and MINT PROSE, a new exhibition by the Ōtepoti-based jeweller, Octavia Cook
For more information on Anna Miles Gallery, regarding upcoming exhibitions check out https://annamilesgallery.com/