When art dealer and entrepreneur Kym Bonython’s new gallery opened in Sydney in 1967, it was believed to be the largest commercial gallery in the southern hemisphere. In early 1970, Bonython brought Melbourne-born art dealer Alannah Coleman over from London to take on the management of his gallery. Sadly, her appointment was not a success and lasted less than a year. Coleman re-organised the records and accounts along European lines and tried to put the gallery on a firm financial footing, but she met with opposition from staff, artists and Bonython himself. Bonython wanted the gallery as a showcase for new talent and was always on the lookout to spot ‘the next goer’. The opening parties at Bonython’s deplored by Coleman as ‘open slather’ evenings proved to be significant social events and the focus for cultural exchange, whilst in his solo shows, Brett Whiteley made innovative use of the gallery as a ‘theatre’, combining painting and sculpture with light and sound to transform the exhibition into a completely new synesthetic experience. In 1971, with funding from John Kaldor’s Public Art Project scheme, Swiss curator and gallerist Harald Szeemann used the Bonython Gallery to stage a groundbreaking show of conceptual art that went on to show at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Without a regular external source of sponsorship or support, however, Coleman’s fears for the financial viability of the gallery were eventually proved right when, after several further years of losses, it finally closed in 1976.
SIMON PIERSE | Alannah Coleman: 1970—A Year at Bonython’s Sydney Gallery