Behind the Scenes: Catherine Asquith Art Advisory | #LIVEWITHART©

Catherine Asquith was surrounded by art and culture from an early age; ‘my great aunt was a collector – and we always had art on the walls of our homes,’ she reveals. A passionate advocate for Australian contemporary art for over two decades; as a collector, art consultant, gallerist, and now art advisor, Asquith discusses her new project and living with art in the corporate world.

How did you get started in the arts industry, and what does your role as an art advisor entail?

In terms of the catalyst for venturing into the art world on a more formal manner, and as a career, I think my first trip to New York in the 90s really cemented this; I was chaperoned by a charming NY collector to all the major commercial galleries in Manhattan, which was an amazing experience that stayed with me on my return to Melbourne. I was working in the corporate sector at the time, which just did not suit me, so I started exploring ways of entering this new vibrant world, and I stumbled across the all-purpose “consultant” role, which eventually saw me open my own gallery at the beginning of 2000. The gallery operated quite successfully for just over ten years, after which I decided it was time for me to stretch my wings beyond the shores of Australia and develop a more global appreciation of the art world. I started visiting all the major international art fairs on the annual calendar, developed some good networks, and from there, I moved into a more client-facing role as an art advisor. Fundamentally, my role comprises providing a range of art advisory services to a private and corporate clientele, from advice on buying and selling art, valuations, art collection development and management and auction liaison.

Rowen Matthews, Heartland, 2020, oil on canvas, 107 × 122cm. From ‘Rowen Matthews: Horizons’, October to December 2021, part of #LIVEWITHART© 2021 Program. Courtesy the artist, Catherine Asquith Art Advisory and #LIVEWITHART©

A guiding principle to your practice is that art is an integral part of our daily lives. Is this the impetus for #LIVEWITHART?

Yes, absolutely. As a rule, we don’t live or work in museum ‘style’ environments with special lighting humidity controls and metres of uninterrupted walls; yet this should not deter us from acquiring and installing work amidst the bookcases, along the hallway, within meeting rooms, in a spare nook in the kitchen, amongst breakout areas, and situating sculpture in bathrooms. Thankfully architects and designers are becoming more creative and mindful of prioritising art collections, and there’s no reason this same spatial thinking cannot be reiterated more readily within corporate working spaces.

How did the project evolve from idea to realisation?

I have always believed we needed more art within our built environment; walking through Melbourne’s CBD, I would often observe some superb, commissioned artworks beautifully situated in the luxe lobbies of Collins and Bourke Streets and would wonder about the working spaces for staff. With the onslaught of the pandemic, the corporate sector was impacted and the traditional business models for galleries and auction houses demanded change; it was time for innovative thinking and dialogue with some of my corporate clients. I am a firm believer that with any dramatic social change – think back to 2008 and the GFC – there is always an opportunity for revision. Thankfully, the #LIVEWITHART concept has been well received. It has really just been a case of tailoring the framework of the program to suit each corporate client.

Can you describe your curatorial approach within a corporate setting? What attributes do you look for when surveying art for an exhibition?

As a former gallerist, I certainly utilise some of the principles which informed my curatorial approach during the tenure of my gallery, which in essence, was to consider the artist’s practice within the context of the canon of art history, an intelligent and innovative handling of subject matter, and an exemplary and elegant technique. But I also need to be considerate of the corporate client’s current priorities, branding, or mission statement, and of course, the space itself; what artworks will lend themselves most seamlessly to these attributes? It’s about balancing the needs of the client and the parameters of the available space, alongside maintaining the integrity of the artwork and the artist’s practice.

What are the benefits for artists who exhibit in these unique alternative spaces? In turn, what does it offer corporate workplaces?

I believe there are multiple benefits to be had from the #LIVEWITHART program, from the exhibiting artists to the corporate entity to the staff and clients visiting the space, and ultimately, the community. More specifically for the artist, the #LIVEWITHART program is an innovative model for expanding an artist’s audience providing as it does, a unique exhibiting opportunity; it literally brings the art to a new environment, providing in a very tangible way, a re-contextualisation of the work, and by extension, the life of an exhibition. For the corporate entity, by including such a program within a working space, a cultural edifice is immediately added to the corporate’s identity, suggesting a forward-looking enterprise and one which is interested in engaging with its community. Staff enjoy a new experience of the space, and potentially are provided an added educative element to their daily working lives; and visiting clients observe a sense of social cohesion and civic pride.

How have COVID-19 restrictions and state lockdowns affected the project?

The pandemic has certainly had an unfortunate impact on some elements within the program, particularly with regard to the launching of new exhibitions and private viewings; and of course, with the recent Melbourne lockdowns, many people have been working from home, so it almost defeats the purpose of installing an exhibition in a corporate space without staff and their respective clients working and visiting these spaces. That said, with available digital technologies – video and film presentations, Zoom interviews with artists, podcasts, online catalogues, and FaceTime – we can still present these exhibitions to the staff working from home, and to the wider public and allow viewing and engagement with an artist’s practice, meaning, ultimately, we are still ‘living with art’.