The thing I hear most regularly from people who find out I’m an Arts writer is some version of the statement “you must meet a lot of wankers”, and it’s funny to me because, of all the careers I’ve had, it’s in this one that I’m least likely to encounter the tossers and blowhards. In hospitality, interior design, international travel consultancy, even as a checkout chick at Toys R Us, I met complete knobs on a daily basis who had to be placated and ego-stroked and fawned over. But in the art world, that rarely happens. Artists, performers, creative directors…for the most part they’re too damn grateful to be doing what they love and dedicated to maintaining that lifestyle to blow too hard about it. In fact, the only time I really encounter knob jockey-ness is when people from outside come in expecting the art scene to be something like an Amy Poehler sketch. But they bring that attitude with them, rather than picking it up as they walk through the door.
Don’t get me wrong, there are as many wankers in art as in any other industry, but they aren’t the overwhelming majority that people expect. They aren’t even influential on the majority. They just tick along in the background, going to openings and drinking the champagne – but they seldom leave a mark. Certainly the art being created around them doesn’t bear them any mind.
No, for the most part all I’ve met are humble, engaging and passionate people, who care about what they do and just want to keep doing it. Nowhere was that more evident to me than last Saturday night at a cocktail party at Jan Murphy Gallery celebrating her twenty years in the industry.
Over 140 people crammed into the Brunswick Street gallery to honour Jan, among them some of Australia’s biggest artists, collectors, academics, museum directors and philanthropists, and the overwhelming feeling that night was one of appreciation. Man of the moment Ben Quilty spoke, because he heard there weren’t to be any speeches and he didn’t think that was right. I guess all his media attention in the last few years has paid off because his speech, spontaneous and off the cuff, was a genuinely warm and funny acknowledgement of the support he’s received in the eleven years he’s been represented by the gallery. And when he dragged a reluctant Jan Murphy up to speak, it was obvious he wasn’t the only artist in her stable to feel that way. She was received with a palpable sense of love by a crowd of people who began as colleagues, clients and suppliers, but have become over time valued friends and comrades. She confessed to being emotional at the thought of the relationships she’s built and the work she’s done, and when her emotions did get the better of her, a blanket of arms reached out to connect and reassure. Not a single person I spoke to had anything even slightly negative to say, rare in a room being served that much gin and regret, and when we all kicked on afterwards it felt more like friends and fun than work and obligation.
Two days later I’m still feeling the ‘warm fuzzies’ of a night spent with old friends and new, celebrating beauty, passion and creativity in all its forms, and that’s no mean feat in Brisbane, where new money and pineapples regularly pass for culture and the cultured. Congratulations, Jan, on a career you’re rightfully proud of. Here’s to the next twenty!