‘There are too many ideas in the world’ says an art dealer who still believes in beauty

Gallery director Murray White has an eye for the unusual and this is reflected in his choice of artists for Murray White Room, the Melbourne gallery he opened 10 years ago.

Photographer Polly Borland, whose subjects have included the Queen, Nick Cave and men who like to dress as babies, is one of the gallery’s better-known artists. Others are Tony Clark, a painter of small and eerie landscapes and Judith van Heeren, whose precisely composed paintings place vaguely sinister animals against lush backdrops.

There are no signs alerting the passerby to the CBD gallery, which is at the end of Sargood Lane, off Exhibition Street and near the fashionable eateries of Flinders Lane. During the week the gallery is a discreet and genteel place where aficionados studiously examine the works but on exhibition opening nights it pumps as the city’s art world spills into the lane.

Apart from a modest website and Instagram account White resists social media to a point because he believes passionately in the real over the virtual. “I was educated to view work in the flesh,” he says. “You have to see it in the flesh, if it matters, and if you care.”

“I just don’t recognise the art world any more [but] I know what matters and I know what’s important.” – Murray White.

Though he has “really resisted the online culture”, paradoxically, “90 per cent of our business is via email”.

White he says it’s an interesting time for small galleries. As art lovers increasingly view and buy online, many bricks-and-mortar galleries are closing or amalgamating, their owners instead exhibiting at the world’s art fairs, which, at $50,000 a pop, can be an expensive proposition for a small outfit.

“The international art fairs can be exhausting for us,” White says. “Four days at the Art Basel Hong Kong fair can be comparable to a year’s rent here.

“I just don’t recognise the art world any more [but] I know what matters and I know what’s important.”

White is confident that every one of the 15 artists he represents is a star and prefers to keep the operation small. “I have to be able to throw myself into it, body and soul. It’s not like I’m a shop and ‘Oh yes, we can sell some of those’ ’’.

Longtime friend, architect Randal Marsh, says other galleries “have as much shit on their walls as they think they can sell – Murray’s approach is more like that of a public gallery”.

“He’s one of the few art dealers who brings a great deal of intelligence and curatorial authorship to his gallery,” says Marsh, a partner in the Wood Marsh Architecture firm responsible for the gallery’s design as well as landmark buildings such ACCA in South Melbourne. “He’s highly mannered and his work reflects that.”

“I know painting will never die. There’s so much vogue and fashion, and I look beyond that”.

What matters to White is a handmade aesthetic and beauty rather than bling. “It has to be beautiful and beautifully made”, he says, reverently touching a reproduction of a painting from a past exhibition by Sally Ross. And if it’s conceptual art “My god, it has to be good for me to be interested. There are too many ideas in the world.

“I know painting will never die. There’s so much vogue and fashion, and I look beyond that”.

Several of White’s artists are old friends and most had not previously had gallery representation.

Artist and friend, Sally Ross, describes him as “a unique creature, a true independent thinker – he does his own thing”.

“He devotes thoughtful, meticulous attention to every detail of a project. He really thinks and cares about what he does and how he does it, with brain and heart.”

Ross, whose exhibition of delicate and stylised landscapes has just opened at the gallery, believes White’s knowledge of art and “his great instincts about decorative arts, fashion and architecture allow me to trust his judgment implicitly.

sally-webross_landscape-i-2016_110x130cm
Sally Ross, Landscape I, 2016 (110 X130cm)

“I thank my lucky stars to work with someone whom I respect and adore. Mr White is a discreet, great champion of art and artists.”

An exhibition of paintings by Sally Ross is on until 22 December and 17-28 January 2017. at Murray White Room, Sargood Lane, off 8 Exhibition Street, Melbourne. Image of Murray White by John Brash.
sallywebross_landscape-slope-_2016_100x80cm
Sally Ross, Landscape Slope, 2016, 100 x 80cm

 

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