Experimentation, risk and critical practice;
An overview of the Gertrude Contemporary Studio Program
Melbourne has a different texture from other Australian cities: it combines a unique mix of sophisticated urbanism with a penchant for community, collaboration and the nurturing of independence. The city is characterised as having an interiority that is attributed to the climate but impacts on creative producers in tangible ways—the denizens of this city are renowned for the clusters and networks of spaces that traditionally provided affordable housing for artistic initiative to flourish.
It is from within this context that Gertrude Contemporary has evolved. In the early 1980’s a group of artists travelled to New York and after visiting PS1 in Brooklyn returned to Melbourne campaigning for a similar institution to be established in Victoria. Our state funding agency, Arts Victoria, were aware of a patron with an unused building in what was then a derelict part of the city – Fitzroy – and in 1985 they were able to broker the establishment of Gertrude Contemporary and put in place the foundation of the organization. The outcome was a national and international program with the objective of supporting experimental, risk-taking and critical practice across three core strands: Exhibitions, Studio’s and Public Programs.
The Studio Program has two key components. The main program is the allocation of sixteen non-residential studios subsided for early career Australian artists (we define this as the first fifteen years of professional practice) for two-year tenures. The Studio Program makes available a space for artists who are at a crucial point of development in their artistic practice—it is an opportunity for artists whose practice have momentum but could benefit from being situated in a context that enables greater visibility, access and professional support. Consequently many of Australia’s leading visual artists are alumni of the Studio Program and since 1997 every artist chosen to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale have either held a studio or contributed to an early exhibition at Gertrude Contemporary.
Creating opportunities for artists to build a sustainable basis for their ongoing practice is important to the organization. A key aim of the Studio Program is generating networks and dialogues that can assist in moving the artists practice into expanded contexts. One way of achieving this is via our busy annual schedule of visiting curators, critics, and patrons. Additionally every studio artist has a staff mentor allocated to assist with professional development, from guidance on grant writing to feedback on recent work. Studio artists have 24-hour access to the building and during their tenure they do not undertake solo exhibitions in our galleries, we encourage the artists to use the space to take risks and to undertake ambitious projects nationally and internationally. As a way of providing a window into the studios for audiences we have a project space called Studio 12 and a highly regarded end of year Studio Artists group exhibition. There are eight studios that become available annually and a committee of arts professionals and artists assesses allocations, selection is a competitive process and it is not uncommon for artists to relocate from interstate to take up this opportunity.
The secondary studio program is the Studio 18 International Residency. Studio 18 is the only residential studio space on the premises and is a combined living and studio/exhibition space open to both artists and curators for a period of three weeks to three months. The Studio 18 Program is not fully funded so artists who want to take part in the program often need to apply for outside support. We also have several ongoing funded international exchanges, including a program with Firestation (Dublin, Ireland) in which artists from both countries are invited to participate in residencies. Our Visiting Curators Program enables us to invite up to three international colleagues to Australia each year to undertake research and development. Recent participants in this program include Raimundas Malasauskas (Lithuania/France), Caterina Riva (UK/Italy), Chris Sharp (USA/France), and Mami Kataoka (Japan).
The daily presence and active involvement of studio artists and curators at Gertrude Contemporary contributes to its unique character and historical necessity. The artistic practices and personal relationships developed between artists in the studio complex brings life and ideas to the organisation and, by extension, to the world at large. It is an especially rewarding and challenging context, at the research and development end of contemporary art production, where new ideas and artistic forms are encountered by audiences in a threshold space of innovation and experimentation.
- Alexie Glass-Kantor is the Director at Gertrude Contemporary