Goddard de Fiddes: the accidental gallery
Posted: 03 Mar 2011 | By: Andrew Nicholls
Goddard de Fiddes was established "almost accidentally", according to directors Glenda de Fiddes and Julian Goddard, when the pair began exhibiting the work of friends in a Fremantle office space in 1992. It was "sort of a project", intended to address particular needs they felt were not being met in Perth at that time: specifically, the support of conceptual practice and fostering of international exchange.
Managed part-time alongside Julian's academic career and while Glenda raised their three children, from the outset there was a sense that GdeF would have a limited lifespan, or that it may evolve in directions other than a physical gallery space. Almost two decades later they are still resistant to define themselves as a gallery, preferring to term GdeF "a collaboration", the objective of which has always been to "try to make Perth a bit more interesting" for themselves and artists they admire. Largely, this has seen them champion the rich legacy of west-coast geometric abstraction, but they have come to represent an increasingly diverse group of international artists, linked by a shared commitment to ideas-driven practice.
The catalyst for GdeF's formalised exhibition program came in 1994 when they took on gallery space in Perth's west end. Mid-recession economics had given rise to vacant offices across the CBD, and the pair was offered rent-free space in the newly completed QV1 skyscraper. A minimal fit-out - polished concrete floor and a sheer glass wall - provided a devastatingly chic setting for what would prove a memorable series of exhibitions, but the lack of running water and any bathroom or kitchen facilities would become increasingly tiresome. Nonetheless, GdeF rapidly established a formidable profile, invited to participate in ARCO and interstate art fairs, and soon attracting Australian and international heavyweights such as John Nixon, Tracey Moffatt and Kiki Smith to their program.
In 1997, the gallery moved to its current location in Malcolm Street, West Perth - a site with a modernist pedigree of its own, having been home to the iconic Skinner Galleries in the 1960s and early 1970s. As such, it has proved a fitting context for programming that Julian states has always been "an attempt to make sense of the location of Perth ... to put it into perspective". Historical exhibitions have furthered this agenda, with some of their most memorable projects curated retrospectively to highlight the under-acknowledged impact of mid-twentieth-century modernism in the west. Their Indigenous programming is equally driven by geographical context; having initially shown some western desert paintings they soon shifted focus solely to local Nyoongar works. "We made a decision that we were going to work with the Aboriginal people of this place - of south-west Western Australia," states Glenda. They currently represent leading Nyoongar painters Christopher Pease, Ben Pushman and Peter Farmer, advocating the international resonance of their works.
This attention to context has led them to appreciate Perth's international appeal: "We've found that a lot of artists like to visit Perth and undertake projects here," says Glenda. They have always sought to connect artists through GdeF and many of their exhibitors have gone on to collaborate both within their program and independently. Dutch artist Jan Van der Ploeg and Swiss Daniel Gottin have gone on to show together in Europe after meeting through the gallery, while two highlights of GdeF's 2010 program were collaborative exhibitions by Van der Ploeg with Perth-based Helen Smith, and Nixon with British David Tremlett. Exhibitions comprise only one aspect of GdeF's programming however, with the gallery also actively involved in projects such as the Australian Centre for Concrete Art: an international collective of geometric abstractionists responsible for the installation of often-temporary murals in urban sites, providing welcome respite from Perth's numbingly mediocre legacy of public art. Similarly, the gallery's involvement in the Bureau of Ideas collective has seen them develop a series of international seminars and exchanges. Such programming is deemed a necessity given the limited audience for gallery-based projects in such a small, isolated and relatively parochial city.
Conversely, this parochialism is also a major strength they perceive amongst their local artists. They are drawn to idiosyncratic practices, to work that "makes you say 'what the hell is that?'" states Julian. "That's how art making should be in places like this. Perth is so out of the loop that artists should be able to take risks here, but so few do." He cites Jurek Wybraniec's "weird, idiosyncratic pop-minimalism" as indicative of a Perth artist whose practice continues to confound expectations. Similarly, the pair has seen Rodney Glick's "obsessive" work inspire bafflement from critics and collectors elsewhere and note the strangeness and aggression implicit in Smith's approach to minimalist painting. They are encouraged by the emergence of a more adventurous Western Australian collector base for such works in recent years.
In a year, GdeF will celebrate its twentieth anniversary, a significant milestone for what was always intended as a time-limited project. Both directors acknowledge that this remains an important consideration, Glenda stating that the collaboration will "probably morph into something else if we carry on for another decade ... the idea of just running a gallery and putting on so many shows a year is not very interesting to us". "If it gets boring we'll give it up," adds Julian. Hopefully for those of us based in Perth, this won't happen any time soon. n
Images from top:
Jurek Wybraniec, Installation View of Fell Off, 2008, cast acrylic, wood, steel, 85 x 225 x 79cm.
Marcus Canning, Weinie Collapses, 2009, photograph on aluminium.
Tarryn Gill and Pilar Mata Dupont, Bride of the North, 2009, giclee print, 120 x 180cm.
Christopher Pease, Law of Reflection, 2009, oil on canvas, 123 x 214cm.