Nicholas Thompson Gallery is owned and directed by UQ Art History graduate, Nicholas Thompson. He established the Melbourne gallery after more than a decade working with the likes of Philip Bacon Galleries and Australian Galleries. However, things could have turned out very differently. Three years into his Architecture studies at UQ, Nicholas changed direction and switched to Art History. He graduated from UQ’s Honours program before going on to complete a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne. We caught up with Nicholas to find out what life is like as a gallery owner in Melbourne and some of the key decisions he took throughout his career that led to this moment.
Q: What compelled you to establish your own gallery at age 32 and what are the challenges and opportunities that come with being a gallerist?
A: It was the right time. I had worked for a decade with significant commercial galleries, completed my Honours and Masters degrees and had support networks encouraging me to go out on my own. It made sense for me to take what I learned in my 20s and apply it to my own enterprise in my 30s.
The biggest challenge is getting people into the gallery and engaging with the artwork; however, I believe this is outweighed by the abundant opportunities for young galleries to build awareness and accessibility in the digital age. Having a comprehensive website and using social media has been invaluable to my business. A strong online presence has contributed to the visibility of the gallery, built relationships and facilitated sales for the artists.
Q: What kind of things do you do on any given day as gallery Director and what do you love most about your work?
A: The gallery is open to the public Wednesday to Sunday. I open from 11 to 6, which gives me time in the morning to visit artists or suppliers. The first and most important thing I do is the accounts. I do my own book keeping so I know where money is going and that artists are paid on time. After this, I make sure all correspondence is up to date and the next exhibitions are on track. I’ll then work on more long-term projects, such as art fair preparation, designing ads and working on publications (I’m currently working on a monograph on one of my artists Su Baker). Saturday and Sunday is when most of the gallery visitors come through. The exhibitions change once a month, I install these collaboratively with the artists.
Working with the artists is what I love most about my work. It is a privilege to be invited into their worlds and be able to contribute to their careers, and I take the responsibility of being their representative very seriously. When planning the gallery I sought out artists I had followed since I was a student and was delighted when they agreed to join my stable. The gallery now represents emerging, mid career and established Australian artists; the younger artists are in their 20s and the most senior is in his 90s. It’s an exciting and diverse group of people to be working with.
Q: Your gallery is part of the Art Money program – what’s the program about and why is it important?
A: Art Money provides interest-free loans to buy art. The client registers with Art Money and once approved they can purchase an artwork priced up to $20,000, take it home immediately and pay it off over ten months. It is a fantastic initiative as it makes owning artwork more accessible, especially for younger collectors, and it has the broader effect of contributing to the public’s awareness of commercial galleries and the visual arts in Australia.
Q: What are some of the important decisions you made or experiences you sought out during your study and early career that set you up for your current success? Did volunteering or interning play a role?
A: The biggest decision was changing my degree from Architecture to Art History in my third year at UQ. Having architecture in my background definitely gave my CV more of an edge. I remember being pretty terrified of the limited employment opportunities in the arts so I was very proactive in approaching people and asking for advice early on, which led to my first gallery position. I did work experience at a regional gallery when I was 17 and later did a brief internship at the Museum of Brisbane during my undergrad. These experiences contributed to my understanding of how public institutions operate.
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