Sydney dealer Michael Reid is finalising three institutional acquisitions of recent Christian Thompson images, making the young photographer an increasingly sought-after artist on the contemporary art scene.
Since completing his PhD with Oxford University late last year and returning to Australia, Thompson has racked up a slew of credits. He was one of 12 young artists selected to work alongside Marina Abramovic in a Kaldor Art Project in Sydney, and his work is currently in 24 Frames Per Second, an exhibition of contemporary art and dance at Carriageworks in Sydney. Coming up, he has been selected for the Asia Pacific Triennial at the Queensland Art Gallery in November and he'll exhibit with the Koorie Heritage Trust in Melbourne's Federation Square in August.
Reid says he has witnessed this kind of surge of interest in an artist's work before but says it doesn't happen very often. "The oh-my-god effect is much rarer than you think," he says.
He began offering work from Thompson's latest series Imperial Relic two weeks ago, following on from its first outing in Melbourne during the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival in May. It includes a video and four photographs of Thompson in elaborate costumes, all in small editions with prices between $7700 and $11,000. The three acquisitions will all go to Australian museums.
While photography has traditionally been seen as an affordable entry point into art collecting, Reid says today's buyers and museum curators connect with the diversity of Thompson's practice – which has also included video, performance, soundscapes and sculpture. "You know you're buying into a richer experience, [the works are] part of a bigger scape," he says.
He says this interdisciplinary approach has put Thompson "in the very spot where contemporary art is in fact heading," giving his work greater currency at home and internationally.
It's a trend that other dealers are also witnessing. Bronwyn Rennex, who runs the photography gallery Stills in Sydney, says photography had a high point in the mid-2000s, marked by floods of works by artists like Tracey Moffatt onto the secondary market. Since then, buyers have moved away from medium-specific approaches to collecting, largely in response to artists themselves and the growing popularity of multidisciplinary and conceptually-driven practices. "Because artists are working that way, collectors have responded and they're collecting that way as well," she says.
It's something she's seen with emerging artists in her stable, such as Kawita Vatanajyankur, who produces videos of performances, and Justine Varga, who makes images more akin to abstract painting. The three works by Varga in Stills' current group exhibition, all in editions of 5 with prices starting at $2,200, are now almost sold out. Rennex is also fielding institutional interest for another emerging artist she has recently begun working with, James Tylor.
But there are other reasons contributing to Thompson's steady climb, including the fact he has now spent close to a decade living and working overseas: in The Netherlands, on campus at Oxford, and also London.
Reid cites an exhibition at London's private Hospital Club that was attended by curators from the Getty Museum, British Museum, the Tate and others. "You can't do that here... You can not actually do an event in Australia where 10 of the 30 most important curators in the world just turn up." It's unlikely Thompson will stay in Australia for long.
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