Australian Art Curator: Where Did It All Start?
We caught up with Art Pharmacy Founder and Director, Emilya Colliver, to find out where this all began...!
Talk us through how Art Pharmacy began?
I started Art Pharmacy in 2010 after returning returning to Australia after 11 years studying and working in the UK, and it was very much a product of my experiences working in galleries over there, and also a huge change in lifestyle moving back here.
I studied art history and archaeology at SOAS and UCL, an while I was at university there was a lot of pressure to define the path of your studies, professors were very clear that we should choose which way to go - the institutional path or the contemporary path.
I’m definitely not an academic, so I chose the contemporary path and in a lot of ways this can be quite challenging - you need to be across so many artists and trends, and also be very creative in the way you forge your career.
I was incredibly fortunate to work for some of the most amazing and interesting people in the industry when I was over there - though I don’t think I quite realised it at the time!
My first ever job was working for Giuseppe Eskenazi, who runs one of the most important antique and art dealerships in the world, we had some incredible clients. Some days you would get the curators from the British Museum coming in to look at his pieces because Eskenazi would regularly snap up pieces that the huge institutions of the world couldn’t afford to have. If you’re a big collector you have huge power and flexibility - museums have to follow a procurement process that can take months before they’re able to make a purchase!
I also worked at the Lisson Gallery alongside Nicholas Logsdail, which has an incredible range of artists they represent - established artists like Sol LeWitt and Richard Long, as well as people who he has supported since their emerging days like Anish Kapoor and Richard Deacon.
Following that, I managed an archeological event at the British Museum which brought archeologists from around the world - a huge learning curve for me, given the sheer size of the institution and scale of the event. My last job was working with private art collector James Birch, where I managed his collection of art ranging from Francis Bacon's through to Political Chinese posters. No day was ever the same. During my time with James I regularly hung out at the Colony Rooms and The Groucho club meeting a whole range of artists & creatives from Damien Hirst, Grayson Perry, Sarah Lucas & Gavin Turk, to name a few...
After spending time in these galleries I had such a diverse range of experiences at a really high-end level, seeing how each gallery model worked was fascinating. From a high-end antique dealer at the top of his game, to the contemporary art gallery and then going to the British Museum which is a completely different story altogether.
When I returned to Australia after working in London, it’s difficult to replicate that experience because the art industry here is much smaller. The evolution of Art Pharmacy began with a friend’s photography exhibition, I was just helping him sell the works on site and it piqued my interest into getting back into the gallery world in some capacity.
From there I put on a show in a City of Sydney pop-up site on Oxford Street in Darlinghurst - it was amazing actually, we had no money to activate the site so I got an artist to come in and paint the walls, and we all dressed up in lab coats and 1960s nurses hats.
A while back, Damien Hirst created an installation work called ‘The Pharmacy’ where he kitted out an entire restaurant in Notting Hill as a pharmacy full of his works. I love the idea of creating a space where art lovers can come and get their ‘fix’ - smaller works from really exciting emerging artists - filling their prescription at the Art Pharmacy!
The online gallery component really came about because I had just had my daughter Scarlett and it was a convenient way for me to work. Interestingly, a lot of people were sceptical of whether people would want to buy artwork online, but we tested it as a concept and it has been incredibly popular.
The key thing for me is to make art accessible to everyone - I want people to feel like they can buy art without being intimidated or scared of the process. I want to break down the barriers because at the core it’s about finding artists you like and supporting them by buying their work, as well as building up a collection that is meaningful to you.
I think a gallery like Art Pharmacy is really important (completely unbiased!) because it can be the starting point for a collector, once you’ve bought a few pieces here you can can build up the confidence to go to galleries and expand your range. It’s also wonderful for me because I can work with so many emerging artists and help them to build their profiles.