We spoke with Gallery Director, Andrew Varano from sweet pea to talk about their presentation for Sydney Contemporary 2023.
Jack Ball, Sticky Notes (installation view)
Photo by Jack Ball.
The gallery is located in Boorloo (Perth) can you elaborate on its location and why you chose to open here?
My family is from Rome, but I was born and have lived in Perth all my life. My family ran nightclubs nearby so in a way I grew up hanging around in this area. We have a habit here of thinking of the city as isolated, culturally deficient and lacking in comparison to the eastern states and overseas. I believe that this thinking is fundamentally lazy and perhaps even rooted in a colonial mentality. There are many spaces in the city I feel are overlooked.
The CBD has experienced a downturn in the retail property market that was accelerated by the Covid lockdowns. As a self-funded gallery, for me it was an opportunity to secure good lease terms in a space that was centrally located. Coming from a curatorial and an exhibition designer background, it was important to me that the space could be functional to work in, flexible enough to accommodate a wide variety of work and meet my standards in terms of presentation. Given that we want to make our space accessible, inviting and unintimidating to new audiences, I was also very conscious that the perception of the space had to be warm and open, I wanted people to feel comfortable and well hosted in the space.
I found some heritage shopfronts on Pier Street that with a bit of care could meet all these standards. They were empty and needed a bit of love and so I set to renovating and fitting out the space myself. I’m happy with where the space is now, but I’m quite ambitious, and so ideally, I would like to grow to accommodate another gallery space, an expanded stockroom that is open to the public and maybe even a small screening space in the next year or two.
What are some career highlights, or exhibition highlights in the gallery to date?
I was an artist before I worked in galleries. The most rewarding experience was being accepted into the Fondazione Antonio Ratti program in 2009, which in that year had the artist Walid Raad as the visiting professor, with some guest workshops also held by the writer Jalal Toufic. Despite being only a three-week program it was probably one of the most intellectually and creatively fulfilling experiences in my life.
As a curator a similarly fulfilling experience was when I was a part of the Australia Council emerging curators program at the Venice Biennale in the same year that Fiona Hall was exhibiting at the Australian Pavilion. Like the Ratti program it was a real opportunity to fully immerse myself and do a research deep dive. That year, 2015, was Okwui Enwezor’s year as curator, and to me – maybe because I was so close to it – it still remains my favourite biennale year for both the national pavilions and the curated exhibition.
I’m also quite proud of the group exhibition I put together called ‘Remedial Works’ which was held at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts where I worked as a curator. One thing I like to do is show early career artists (particularly local artists) alongside their interstate and international peers. This was the first time I worked with Jess Tan, who I now represent through the gallery, and I was able to show her work alongside fairly high-profile artists such as Anicka Yi and Pakui Hardware.
But of course, running sweet pea has probably been the biggest highlight and something that is still unravelling! I like being able to move quickly and to think broadly about what I’d like to achieve, which is something I get to do here. It’s a dream.
Nathan Beard, Low Yield Fruit (installation view)
Photo by Jack Ball.
What was your first exhibition, and why?
My first exhibition at sweet pea was an exhibition by Jack Ball, who I’m bringing to Sydney Contemporary alongside Nathan Beard. Jack is a very good friend of mine and when I was thinking about starting a commercial gallery, they were one of the first people I spoke to about it. I’ve always been fascinated by their work and their way of thinking. They have such a good eye and I often find myself lost and luxuriating in the colour, textures and worlds contained inside their works. When sweet pea opened in November 2021 Jack did concurrent solo exhibitions at sweet pea and the Art Gallery of Western Australia – companion shows in a way. While the AGWA show was largely (but not wholly) about trans intimacy, the sweet pea exhibition was about associative and oblique ways of thinking, informed from experiences with dyslexia. For Jack it was a huge achievement and the perfect exhibition with which to launch sweet pea!
Who are you bringing to Sydney Contemporary and why?
I’m bring Jack Ball and Nathan Beard to Sydney Contemporary. I’m excited to see how it works out as they have never shown together but I’ve always intuited a lot of overlaps in their work which I’m looking forward to thinking through and articulating.
Nathan is touring his PICA exhibition ‘A Puzzlement’ to 4A in Sydney and Jack Ball has a solo exhibition at Sydenham International, both during Sydney Contemporary, so this felt like the perfect opportunity to bring them together.
It is good timing for them both as they both have recently moved to the eastern states. Jack is living and working in Sydney, practicing, and also teaching at UNSW. Nathan has moved to Melbourne to undertake the two-year Gertrude Studio Program. They both have hugely promising careers ahead of them and I’m looking forward to bringing their work to new audiences, especially overseas, over the next few years.