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The First Australian Gallery In Singapore: Sullivan+Strumpf

Ursula Sullivan of Sullivan+Strumpf on the differences between the Australian and Singaporean art worlds.

Ursula Sullivan, one half of Sullivan+Strumpf

Considering our proximity to the land down under, it came as quite a surprise to hear that there haven’t previously been any Australian galleries in our little island state. Sydney-based Sullivan+Strumpf has the honour of becoming the first to set up shop here.

Sullivan+Strumpf opened its doors in June this year with its inaugural exhibition, ‘Arrival’. This showcased the works of Australia-based artists such as Tony Albert, Ex de Medici and Tom Silver, which explored the themes of identity, materiality, the construction of memory and the fragility of the human condition. More recently, the gallery showcased a solo exhibition by renowned Australian artist Sam Leach entitled ‘Gravity Tractor’.

We spoke to Ursula Sullivan, one half of Sullivan+Strumpf, about the art worlds of Australia and Southeast Asia.

What do you look for in an artist you would like to work with?

Ursula Sullivan: There’s a quality of ideas and concept that our artists have. They all have different ideas. Some are extremely political. Ex De Medici is about confronting corporations and similar issues. Sam Leach has a vintage futurist and utopian vision. They all have that quality of thinking: that they can deliver it in a different way to what everyone else is doing. We want to take on Southeast Asian artists and that’s what we’re looking for as well.

Will Southeast Asia be a big market for you in terms of acquiring new artists?

I hope so but it will happen slowly because there is a lot of work to be done. We have to learn and become part of the community. We know that we’re not an immediate part of the community but we hope to be a part of it. We hope to spread the love and build the bridge. We understand that Singapore is not just Singapore, it can represent the whole of Southeast Asia.

House 02, Joanna Lamb, 2016. Acrylic on paper, 44 x 75 cm

Is there an interest from Australian buyers in Southeast Asian art?

I think there’s a lot of curiosity about Southeast Asia. For example, the Queensland Art Gallery does the Asia Pacific Triennial. There’s a lot of interest because it can be a slightly different aesthetic but it’s a really important conversation that Southeast Asian artists are having. It’s really relevant and much more interesting as well. You look at a lot of New York and London artists and it’s just a bit samey. Whereas Southeast Asian artists are presenting quite a different idea. It’s exciting.

You mention a curiosity about Southeast Asian art. What are the challenges in introducing this type of art to Australian audiences?

I think they are connected because they are speaking a visual language. Australia has this multi-cultural distance as well. For example, Sally Smart works very well with Entang Wiharso — they had a recent exhibition together at the Singapore Art Museum. They are two very different people who kind of talk the same language. Somehow there are these wonderful crossovers of layering, collage and ideas.

Suburban House 11, Joanna Lamb, 2016. Acrylic on paper, 45 x 55cm

Does location matter when it comes to choosing a gallery space in the city?

Our Sydney gallery sells a lot of artwork but there’s maybe 20 times more people who come through our Singapore gallery. We have no qualms about foot traffic. It’s not about foot traffic. It’s about getting on the phone, being involved, getting there and doing stuff in the community. Because you can’t sit there and just expect it all to happen. You have to get in there and work.