When out and about there are certain individuals you recognise time and time again, with an alluring charm so formidable that they need not require a formal introduction in order to be appreciated. You hold in high regard, the myriad of wonderful projects that they’ve been integral to. You admire their monochromatic style, their timeless elegance. Their creamy, blunt, and immaculate hairdo.
Enter Margaret Moore; founder and director of Moore Contemporary and the embodiment of that certain individual in question. It was with great pleasure that I finally did get my chance to meet her formally back in 2017, at the opening event of her fabulous new gallery space.
As an avid fan of Margaret's gallery programme and curatorial work ever since, I took a moment to sit down for a chat and learn a little bit more about her background and the personal collection of works that adorn the walls of her home...
DIANA: Thank you for graciously opening up your beautiful and serene home to us today. Unexpectedly, it feels quite restrained. Every artwork has plenty of breathing space. Do you rotate your art collection often, or do you just have great self-discipline in terms of what you acquire? It must be difficult to not want to buy every great piece you see!
MARGARET: Thank you – it was a pleasure to share our home with you. My training as a curator has meant that I have learnt I can appreciate a lot of art without having to own it, though we are of course grateful to have selectively acquired some pieces to live with. It is not to say that I don't covet a lot of art but I also genuinely get pleasure in seeing others respond to good art and in helping them with placing great pieces in their own collection or homes. And yes, I do like to give art works space to ‘breathe’ where possible. Sensitive placement of art works whether in a home, office or a museum is both respectful and satisfying. We rotate work in our environment to refresh perspectives from time to time.
It must be wonderful to have an Architect husband who can design a home to perfectly fit your needs and your art collection. Were you conscious of the placement of your art collection during the design stage of your home?
Both Bret and I are aware that it is a privilege to design your own home. The design of this house was guided more by factors such as the site, aspect and how we like to live rather than by specific art placement. Bret and I agree that if you can get scale, proportion and light right, the art will always be well served. We aim to bring a sense of space and light into our home, and I am always keen to have some sizeable uninterrupted walls to ensure we can accommodate art in a flexible way.
How do you believe curation and interior design align or differ?
In this day and age, the term curator is used for everything from assembling a wine list to organising events, well expanded from its original custodianship role of collections and perhaps stemming more from its associated connoisseurship. When it comes to art in interiors a sense of placement and correspondence between other objects, materials, spaces, furniture and the directional flow of the interior design can make for an exciting or harmonious balance. This can be elevated by knowledge of the art and respect for the interior design.
Homes are not generally museums and they offer greater scope for personalised expression, quirkiness, the unexpected, modesty or grandness. I do enjoy placing art in both personal and public environments because I can see the joy and quality of life that living with art can bring, or the energy that can come from well-placed work in any space; be it a museum, corporate office or home.
Interior design is a whole other discipline requiring different skill and knowledge. I am a great believer in the power of collaboration though, so there are times when curators, artists, interior designers and architects can align well and there can be some great outcomes, while understanding that each offer a unique contribution and intelligence.
Did you ever want to be an artist yourself?
I did do a stint at art school before settling on art history at university. I think I worked out quite quickly that my strengths and passion were as a mediator with art. By that I mean I enjoyed studying it, writing about it and thinking critically about its place in society more than I did producing work. I have great respect for artists and know that to be a good artist takes extraordinary focus and singular talent. I love mediating between artists, art works, audiences, collectors and that holds true in all the roles I have undertaken.
Growing up in rural Victoria, were either of your parents creative or interested in art?
Not especially, though that may have been more through lack of access or circumstance. I recall my farmer father did have a naturally good drawing hand, and I appreciated that as a child.
What was it about art that appealed to you early on? And does that still hold true today?
My earliest engagements with real art came on a school excursion to the National Gallery of Victoria to see major twentieth century American art. I’m not certain I can recall the appeal precisely at that time but the whole experience stayed with me very strongly and it all felt so enriching, so important. I sensed the power of major works of art. I sensed a belonging in that world. We also attended a curatorial lecture and I knew that was something I could and wanted to do. To convey the importance, depth and appreciation of art to others.
Can you recall the first significant artwork you purchased for yourself and why?
Actually, I am not so sure I can! I suspect the first pieces were more a show of support to certain artists I knew, rather than been hugely insightful
And what is the most recent artwork you have acquired?
One of the most recent I have acquired is by local artist Dan McCabe, who I am now pleased to be working with in Moore Contemporary. I was immensely impressed with a small and refined project that he and his studio collaborators at the time, Guy Louden and Loren Kronemyer put together in their studio gallery in Fremantle. It was such a tight and intelligent presentation of work around the sub-culture of "preppers" (people that actively pursue and accumulate all sorts of high end or military grade hardware to ensure survival in anticipated doomsday). It was not lost on these artists that the energy and investment that “preppers” expend could just as easily go into efforts to fend off apparent threats or ameliorate impacts of climate change, for example. That aside, all the works were beautifully constructed and presented smartly.
First Lite by Dan McCabe was the first of a type where he has worked with camouflage on black acrylic, matt vinyl and blue gunned steel. It is a work that is elegant and strong at the same time, and its reflectivity also brings a dynamic to our living space. Needless to say, I could see the sophistication in his thinking and in his work and have watched that grow at quite an exponential rate.
In your years of experience working with private and corporate art collectors, would you say that people tend to buy art with the intention of it being an investment or do they buy more with their emotions?
In my experience most people want to make sound decisions but are far more guided by their own level of attraction and emotion than by money, which is as it should be. Buying for investment is risky business and actually a bit soulless when it comes to art. If you buy what you love and want to live with then you are also investing in the career and livelihood of an artist and that can be so rewarding. People also grow with their art, whether it is in a home or in a corporate environment. The curatorial knowledge of art history, provenance, market records and career trajectory of an artist and sense of judgement is of course important in bringing financial confidence to corporate and museum collections in particular, where the purchasing funds are not personal.
When you first moved to Perth in your 20’s you landed a job at AGWA. How long did you work there and how did your position evolve over time?
Technically I was 30… (end of my 20’s!) and had previously been working at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and the National Gallery in Canberra prior to arriving in Perth. I was grateful to secure a contracted curatorial assistant role to work on an exhibition and over time became a Curator of Contemporary Art and then acted as Senior Curator before going on maternity leave.
Are you still involved at PICA or The Perth International Arts Festival? And what boards are you currently a part of?
I remain a great supporter of both PICA and the Perth International Arts Festival though not formally engaged with either now. I was Chair of the PICA Board from 2008 – 12 and was Curator/ Program Manager of the Visual Arts at the Perth International Arts Festival from 2008 – 16. They are each quite critical and distinctive agencies for art and culture in Perth and the State. I am currently Chair of the Murdoch University Art Collections Board and have recently joined the Advisory Board of the Fremantle Biennial. Murdoch has an exceptional art collection which is growing in a considered way and the Fremantle Biennial has such exciting and aspirational plans to bring and create high level experiences in contemporary art practice. It is important for me to feel I keep contributing to the arts ecology of our State in ways that I know best.
Has opening your own gallery always been a dream of yours?
It is funny because I would not say a dream exactly. I am someone who can be very lateral in the art world working across private and public, museums, festivals etc. In all that I do I think what drives me is connecting people to great art experiences. Having made our life in Perth, now for several decades, I am also someone who re-invents to keep life progressive. I seek and create opportunities for that. When I left the role at the Perth Festival, I had to think what next? Aside from some fabulous collection consultancy projects I had, I did think the time was right for Perth and right for me to establish a commercial project space for contemporary art in the city.
What do you look for in an artist when deciding to represent them in your space?
The model for my space is that I represent some artists and others I simply work with to show their work periodically. As Founder and Director, I operate as a curator of the space. It is the art work itself that will always lead me to an artist, and then I suppose the key is that each of you want to work together. It is a partnership. If I believe in the artwork it would be rare that I didn't enjoy and appreciate the artist behind it. I also prioritise that it is about artists of currency and the presentation of local and international art.
Can you recommend some up and coming WA artists that we should be buying right now?
That would be quite loaded I think for me to list names. Suffice to say though I think we are in a time where there are a relatively high number of exciting, talented and vigorous contemporary artists coming out of Western Australia at the moment. They deserve attention and increasingly some of them are getting that.
In your mind, does art always need to hold a concept? Or can it simply just be pretty to look at?
It can be both, but I suppose the distinguishing feature for me with art that I work with and respond to is that it comes from artists who are thinking about their production in conceptual and developmental terms and in the times that they are working. I often refer to an integrity of ideas as being a kind of crucible, which sees artists create work in all forms and in all ways, and often aware of a long history of art behind them. Indigenous artists of course are an inherent exemplar of that. Contemporary art might be pretty or not and sometimes quite challenging.
Do you think fashion can be art?
There are synergies between many creative disciplines, and between the ‘makers’ themselves if I can use that term broadly, but I think fashion is fashion and art is art, music is music etc. They can all be of equivalent inherent value when produced by the best!
What is important to you when buying clothing? And who are your favourite designers?
I am attracted to quality fabrics and cuts and buying what I know works for me. I do enjoy dressing and mixing up pieces, so sometimes I buy significant fashion designers and sometimes less so! And I don't actually buy a lot. Some pieces of quality I keep for a long time and return to wearing. In terms of favourites there is Comme des Garcons, some of the Belgians such as Ann Demeulemeester and
Sophie D’Hoore, and Dilettante has introduced me to Christian Wijnants. I have also discovered Song for the Mute through Dilettante. Others; Haider Ackermann, Alexander McQueen, Uma Wang and Simone Rocha. A bit like art I appreciate many other designers without necessarily owning or wearing them all.
What is your favourite gallery in the world?
Oh, there are many. Different Art Museums offer different experiences. For quite a distinct and singular museum experience the trio of the Bennesse House Museum, Chichu Museum, and Lee Ufan Museum on Naoshima designed by Tadao Ando and also the Teshima Art Museum designed by Ryue Nishizawa in Japan are very special. I was impressed by Gagosian’s new space in London on my last visit. The Leopold and Albertina Museums in Vienna were a recent pleasure. I love the experience of Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art when they give over the entire space to the Asia Pacific Triennial. If you asked me next week I would probably recall a whole range of others.
If you could curate a fantasy show, what 10 artists would you include?
That is a big question for me – putting the work of any 10 artists together is an amazing opportunity and responsibility. Even as a fantasy show I would have to give this much consideration. It might include the work of Roni Horn, Francis Alÿs, Terasita Fernandez… I think I would have to re-visit The Visitors by Ragnar Kjartansson which we brought to Perth for the Perth Festival in 2015. It is a work which I truly think is one of the most amazing emblems of our times in the first part of the 21st century. Complex, human, emotional, empathetic, communal, understated and ambitious all at once, and utterly beautiful and compelling. I could build a show around that. Do Ho Suh’s work….and maybe the work of a whole lot of artists who I don't even know yet. That would be exciting.
You are heading to the Venice Biennale this year, do you have a favourite thing to do/visit while in Italy?
It is always a treat to navigate the Biennale and many of the offsite projects dotted throughout Venice. Outside of the Giardini and Arsenale, I enjoy visiting the Punta Della Dogana and Palazzo Fortuny regardless of what might be on.
I am looking forward to seeing the Luc Tymans exhibition at the Palazzo Grassi this year and the Jannis Kounellis in the Prada Foundation. In Milan a visit to 10Corso Como for shopping heaven and the Prada Foundation Museum each offer a feast for the senses. This year I am going to visit Galeria Continua in San Gimignano for the first time which I am looking forward to.
In Italy it is also easy to embrace the end of day culture of a prosecco or Campari spritz sitting in a square and watching the world go by after a long day on foot taking in art.
Thank you for allowing us to do a photoshoot in your gallery. I fell in love with Marita Fraser’s work when visiting the exhibition. Can you tell us a bit about her?
Marita Fraser is an Australian born artist who went to Vienna to do higher study, and then to London where she has lived for some eight years and is currently undertaking her Phd at the Royal College of Art. I first experienced her work about 12 years ago and immediately recognised an art language that was both felt and cerebral. She works across media; painting, sculpture, installation, textile and film. For Moore Contemporary she has produced a wonderful project that brings together these strains of different media. Paintings on linen that combine the tension of geometry with subtle colour that seems unstable or intangible. They are works that keep you looking. Her screen installations are like drawings in the space and are draped with tulle and fabric creating interesting view points and interruptions. There is formality and the incidental in her work all at once which is an endlessly arresting combination. ✹
Margaret wears Comme Des Garçons, Pleats Please, Issey Miyake ME, MAN-TLE, Christian Wijnants and Ann Demeulemeester.
Words by Diana Paolucci.