The idea of starting your own art collection might feel completely out of reach.
But really, it’s more achievable than you might think. Just ask Director of the Goulburn Regional Art Gallery, Gina Mobayed. Not only is she one of the youngest appointed directors of a public art gallery in Australia, she’s also a keen collector herself and curator of this year’s Collectors’ Space exhibition for Art Month. Cheekily titled You Never Forget Your First, Gina has brought together artworks from the collections of some of Sydney’s best philanthropists and arts leaders, including Evan Hughes, Chris Kirby and Ray Monde, Megan Monte, Michelle Newton, Jasper Knight, and Isabelle Toland. It’s a rare opportunity to peek inside some of the city’s most impressive private collections (and likely your only chance to see some of these works in the flesh). I caught up with Gina to find out more about the exhibition, her ‘first’, and pick her brains on behalf of the budding collectors among us.
Hi Gina, how are you doing?
I’m doing great thank you! Currently at a makeshift desk—a stool and plinth—inside the gallery where we will install Collectors’ Space.
First things first: what do you do and how did you get there?
I’m the Director at Goulburn Regional Art Gallery, so I lead a space that presents exhibitions, commissions new work, runs a public art program and a host of learning events for the community of Goulburn. I became the youngest appointed director of a public gallery a few years ago and I got there by taking on a lot of work early in my career but also being selective about where and who I would work with. My first role was an internship, unpaid, at a private gallery in Sydney that was doing really experimental and exciting things. I worked with Mel O’Callaghan and Ben Quilty there, and these two artists, in particular, have stayed alongside me as I’ve gone on to work elsewhere. Over the years I have come to learn that I work in the arts to connect artists to their audiences, and that I care deeply about the experiences an artist will have working with me.
So I guess that’s what has brought you to curating Art Month’s anticipated Collectors’ Space exhibition this year then. Can you tell me a bit about what Collectors’ Space is?
It sure is, and a big thanks to Festival Director Emma O’Neill who asked me to be a part of this year’s Art Month. Collectors’ Space is an exhibition that brings together collectors in the curator’s field of vision, and this year that is me. I have asked five collectors to allow me into their private spaces, homes, storage units to scour through many, many works to put together a pretty bold show. Collectors’ Space is about revealing to the public what is usually private, what collectors choose to live with at home. It stimulates a great conversation about how and where to start collecting, through the lens of being able to look at a lot of work all at once in the show. I love that it pops up in a new place in Sydney each year too; this time we are under Verona Cinema on Oxford St. Looking at work outside more formal spaces like museums and galleries is quite freeing!
It’s quite the spicy exhibition title, You Never Forget Your First. What inspired this year’s theme?
Well, the collectors I am working with are people I really admire. They work in the arts in many ways and over the past decade of my own career, I have built solid respect for each of them. I thought to myself, well it’s true, you never forget your first; your first show, first great relationship with an artist, and that extends to the first work you ever acquired. The theme is cheeky because I know so many of us can relate to that statement—interpret it how you will! In this case, I want to show people considering collecting that everybody starts somewhere, no matter who you are or what your budget is.
The lineup of artists on show is pretty impressive, with works by Lee Godie, Tom Polo, Timothy Cook, Claudia Nicholson, and Dan Kyle to name just a few. What was the selection process like for you, and what things guided your final choices?
The selection process was incredible! And each collector was so open to the theme of the show. I was beyond humbled to be allowed into Chris and Ray’s for instance, and hear that their more recent purchases were just this year so they could support artists in a real time of need. Michelle Newton too, her first work was a stunning work on paper by Timothy Cook from Jilamara Arts on the Tiwi Islands, where she lived and worked for years. These anecdotes I like to share because they reveal how personally driven each of these collectors are to support artists, and acquire work that has meaning to them.
Is there a story behind any of the collectors and their collection in particular that has stood out to you over the process of curating the show?
Absolutely. Evan Hughes is one of the most intelligent and vital minds in Australia; his recall is astounding and the collection large and significant. Tracking through pockets of this collection was a learning experience for me, and I left our few meetings feeling revitalised! Evan travelled a lot when he was younger, and it is impressive that he was very interested in American outsider art early in his career. This is the direction we went with in selecting works for Collectors’ Space and I tell you now, it’s pretty much a once in a lifetime opportunity to see what he has loaned us.
Generally speaking, how do people get into collecting art in the first place?
In all honesty, I think you fall in love with one work and it goes from there.
You obviously work in the arts, but when did you start collecting? What was your ‘first’?
I started collecting about eight years ago and my first was a Marc Etherington. My friend and wonderful human, Sean Rafferty, was running a gallery across the road from me and I wanted to support him and Marc. It’s a tiny, fun painting and I purchased it because I liked it. A few years later Marc’s career took off and he has been hung in the Archibald many times. That is of no matter to me though, I still love that painting and remember how it felt to take it home and hang it.
Did that first piece have any impact on what you collected afterwards?
A little, yes. Because I’m responsible for acquiring for a public collection and have been for a while now, I like to acquire works for myself that are a little more out there. I am fortunate too because my partner is very into collecting, so we debate and share ideas all the time. We recently acquired a large Cybele Cox and she sits on my dining table. We eat in the kitchen now! I refuse to be constrained by what my home can take… if it’s too big, find another spot for it. Bend to the artwork.
I think sometimes young people are held back by the misconception that collecting art is something you do when you’re older, or that you have to know a lot about art to feel comfortable buying your own. Do you have any advice for emerging collectors who are looking to buy their first piece of art?
Yes, I agree and I hear this so often. I would like to encourage these collectors to look at work, consider what they like and don’t like. Develop their eye. Ask questions. Visit galleries. After a few conversations with a gallerist or curator, I think they will realise how keen we are to bring them in to collecting.
Around the money side of things, I see it as an investment in the way I feel about my home. Buying art keeps giving, so buy what you think you can manage. Art Money will allow you to pay off an artwork interest-free, so take a look at their offering. Also, open your mind to the value of work. It might have taken the artist weeks to make it, but years to resolve the ideas in the work. It is worth it!
And what are your non-negotiables?
Buying from reputable galleries. I never, ever consider anything that could have placed the artist at risk of being treated poorly or worse, not being paid for their work. This happens.
In terms of emerging Australian artists right now, who are you putting your money on?
And lastly, if you could own any single piece of art in the entire world what would it be?
It would be a Betty Muffler, as big as possible!
Collectors’ Space – You Never Forget Your First runs from Thursday 4th March to Sunday 28th of March 2021. You can also join Gina at Inside The Collectors’ Space on Sunday 14th March 2021, where the creatives behind the collections will share the origins of their pieces, as well as tips and tricks on collecting themselves.