Run like a
curator

with Hamish Sawyer, curator and writer
Hamish Sawyer, curator and writer

What do you aim to say through curating, does this vary from space to space eg public gallery, botanic gardens ? …

It depends entirely on the artist or artists I’m working with; and of course the context in which the work is being presented. Hopefully the audience will come away with some insights about the works they have seen. Curating a solo project is different to a group exhibition, which is thematically or ideas- driven. But it always starts with the work.

Do you comment on current social or political issues? …

When these issues are relevant to the work, yes. Generally speaking, I’m interested in artists who have a nuanced or interesting position on a particular subject. Work that is too literal or didactic is less interesting for me, and I think for the audience.

How do you curate artists or are they too oppositional to curating?….

Curating an exhibition involves an exchange of ideas with the artist/s I am working with, it is not passive. Communication is also key. When an artist is unwilling to collaborate or take feedback, it doesn’t work. Conversely, when you have a positive experience with an artist, you want to work with them again.

Who are your biggest influences?

The New Zealand curator Robert Leonard, who I worked with at the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane has been a major influence. His curiosity about the world and artists is endless and infectious. He also instilled in me the importance of writing for a curator. Angela Goddard, Director of Griffith University Art Museum is another curator whom I greatly respect and seek advice from.

How have you developed your career? …

I worked in commercial galleries for eight years and this is where my passion for working closely with artists began. Aware that I needed broader experience, I took temporary positions at Arts Queensland, the Institute of Modern Art and then QAGOMA, where I worked on touring exhibitions and programs, but also got to serve as a co-curator for the Eighth Asia Pacific Triennial, a formative experience. All of these positions helped me build a diverse skillset and strong networks. When I was appointed curator of Caloundra Regional Gallery in 2016 I drew upon those experiences and networks to develop a dynamic program that contextualised leading local practitioners alongside their peers from outside the region.

How do you seek out opportunities, especially now being independent?

The art world is built on relationships, so keeping in contact with people is important at any time. Instagram is a great tool to build your profile and promote what your working on. Writing is also an important way to stay connected and be visible, as well as develop and test ideas.

How do you cultivate a patron and/or a collector base?

For an artist, I would recommend being active on Instagram, applying for selected art prizes and exhibition opportunities, and keeping previous buyers in the loop with what you’re working on (studio previews etc). Taking good photographs of your work is important and asking someone to write a text for your exhibitions are both important ways to document what you’re doing and to give collectors and curators a good sense of your practice.