Culture and connection in The Cloud

In conversation with Aotearoa Art Fair co-director Stephanie Post

In a matter of weeks, the Aotearoa Art Fair will open at The Cloud. With ANZ as Lead Partner for the last 16 years, New Zealand’s premier art event is a five-day showcase of the Pacific Rim’s best art, attracting curators, collectors, and the curious alike. Stephanie Post has been co-director of the annual event (formerly the Auckland Art Fair) alongside Hayley White since 2015. Together, they have delivered five successful editions of the fair, plus an online-only edition in 2020.   

During Stephanie and Hayley’s tenure, the fair has grown – not so much in size (it has always filled The Cloud on Queens Wharf for its five-day stint, attracting around 10,000 visitors annually and 40 diverse galleries) – but in cultural and economic impact. Sales of art at the fair have increased from around $5 million in 2016 to over $10 million in 2021. Crucially, this money goes directly to the artists and galleries who represent them (the fair takes no commission on sales of art). This makes the event a significant supporter of visual arts in Aotearoa, ensuring that artists are fairly paid and that dealer galleries can continue to represent artists and present quality exhibitions. Many artists create works specifically for the fair. 

Before stepping into the sizeable shoes of fair co-director, Stephanie’s life was steeped in art. Having completed a Masters in Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmiths’ College, University of London, she worked with a variety of public galleries in London before arriving in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland in 2012. There, she was pleasantly surprised to find New Zealand punching well above its weight. “Aotearoa New Zealand produces what some might see as a surprisingly large number of incredibly good artists,” she explains, “given our small population and geographical distance from the traditional ‘centres’ of international contemporary art.” Many of these New Zealand artists were highly regarded internationally before they were known on their home turf.  

Stephanie is keen to point out that the fair is about more than buying and selling art – it’s a place where people spend time together, meet new people, and experience new things. “It creates a moment in time, annually, when collectors and curators come together to see what is new and interesting.”  Which begs the question – are art fairs just for collectors and art world aficionados? Far from it, says Stephanie. Although art fairs offer established collectors “first chance” opportunities to see new works by great artists, they are also important in developing new audiences for art.  

In fact, she says, art fairs are the ideal place for new art buyers to start. Galleries are selected by a panel of experts, which ensures quality control; and they are conveniently housed together in one building for five days. Gallery owners – and many artists – are there and eager to speak about the art they are showing and the artists they represent. “Over the five editions we have been a part of, it has been wonderful to see not only the quality of the art getting stronger and stronger, but also more and more new buyers – often younger people – coming along and engaging with what they see.”  

Art fairs are a rare opportunity to connect with the artists behind the pieces, turning what could otherwise be a purely transactional affair – the buying and selling of art – into a rich and rewarding experience. Stephanie explains “art fairs offer people the chance to really engage with art and artists. By buying a work from a gallery or fair (as opposed to an auction house) you are making a real difference to the life and career of living artists – and you often get to speak with them about the piece and get to know them and their story.” 

In Stephanie’s eyes, great art and artists are the heart and soul of an art fair. Visitors to the fair are treated to a variety of voices from New Zealand and beyond, with galleries from our Pacific neighbours (and further afield) invited to participate. Bergman Gallery from Rarotonga has participated since 2016; they now have a gallery in Auckland.  There are regularly 5-10 galleries from Australia, with galleries from Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai, and Jakarta also making appearances. Stephanie says “For us it has always been important that the fair is about the art of the wider Pacific Rim region, since that is where we live and work and where many of our artists live and work.” 

The importance of sharing information, knowledge, and experience between the New Zealand art world and its international counterparts is an issue that’s close to Stephanie’s heart. It’s the driving reason behind her partnering with the Jan Warburton Charitable Trust to facilitate an annual art residency programme. The residency provides for a New Zealand artist to spend three months in London at Gasworks, a non-profit contemporary visual art organisation.  

Just a 10-minute walk from Tate Britain, Gasworks has four international residency studios and nine studios for London-based artists. Now in its sixth year, the Residency is currently hosting New Zealand artist Campbell Paterson. Sriwhana Spong – the first New Zealand artist to go to Gasworks, in 2016 – has a permanent studio there. “I’m hopeful that the Residency will continue for at least another five years,” says Stephanie. “The Jan Warburton Charitable Trust has kindly offered to support over half of the costs, so with a bit more fundraising I’m positive we’ll see this happen.” 

Closer to home, Art Now NZ is also helping to get that information and knowledge flowing. Created by Stephanie and Hayley as a simple listing site for exhibitions and events in New Zealand, it now includes a monthly essay, information about art books, editioned art works for sale, and more. “To encourage people to see more art, it is vital that there is easy access, single-point information about contemporary art in New Zealand,” says Stephanie.  

This year’s edition brings a host of established and up-and-coming Māori artists to the fair, in addition to those who regularly show through dealer galleries. “We’re incredibly honoured that Toi Māori Aotearoa will be presenting a booth of work by some very senior Māori artists – including Rangi Kipa (Te Ātiawa, Taranaki, Ngāti Tama ki te Tauihu), Sonia Snowden(Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Wai), Baye Ridell (Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau a Ruataupere) and Te Uhi ā Mataora, the national collective of moko artists led by Sir Derek Lardelli – whose work has not been shown at the fair before. Alongside this, we also welcome the return to the fair of Mokopōpaki, the Maori-focused space and dealer gallery.” 

Hoea! Gallery have generously gifted the name He Iti for the section of the fair where new galleries (including Hoea!) will exhibit. Hoea! is an artist-run project space from Tūranganui-a-Kiwa/Gisborne, led by director Melanie Tangaere Baldwin. Baldwin says “In what has the potential to be an overwhelming or intimidating environment for ourselves and other small or new galleries, we wanted the space to have a name that made us feel comforted, safe, and acknowledged. He Iti refers to the whakatauki Ahakoa he iti, he pounamu, which suggests that though something might seem small or insignificant, it may in fact be the greatest treasure. It speaks to inclusion and an altering of power dynamics.”  He Iti can be found on the mezzanine of The Cloud for the duration of the show. 

This November’s fair will be Stephanie’s last. With so much achieved by the fair during her tenure, she’s confident it’s left in great hands with Hayley as sole director.  As for what’s next – she’s looking forward to getting involved in a variety of projects that involve new audiences for art, more international engagement, and, she says, “who knows what else?” 

This year’s Aotearoa Art Fair features work by over 150 artists from over 40 of the best galleries across the Pacific Rim. Held at The Cloud on Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland’s waterfront from November 16-30, the fair is New Zealand’s premier showcase for contemporary art. During its five days, it’ll welcome people from New Zealand and beyond to look at, think about, talk about, and of course, buy some great art. 

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Image credit: Installation view of the McCahon House stand at the 2021 Aotearoa Art Fair, featuring Shane Cotton, Waterfall, 2020, edition of 100 hand signed and numbered, photo by Luke Foley-Martin.

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