What I've Learned - Robert Carlino - Michael Reid

What I’ve Learned – Robert Carlino

What I've Learned

Michael Reid’s Head of Group Operations & Logistics, Robert Carlino, shares his thoughts on the art world moving online, staying focused in a multitasking industry, and how a popular cartoon influences his own collecting habits.

Editing by Emma-Kate Wilson

I was born in Sydney and raised in an Italian family that values hard work, education and food. It was not a background immersed in the arts, but I had a natural ability and was always encouraged to further my skills. The arts proved to always be the one constant vehicle in my life for authentic expression.

Most of my school lunchtimes were spent in the art room, painting, eating pizza and joking with the art teacher, who treated me more as an equal than a student. Subsequently, he was the first art figure in my life-giving value and guidance into the importance of art.

While studying for my Bachelor of Arts – Fine Arts (Honours) at the University of Western Sydney, I was a little surprised at the lack of actual ‘education’ I received from the lecturers. Naively, I thought there would be classes on how to mix paints and pigments and correctly hold a brush. Fortunately, through experimentation, fellow peers or through osmosis, I caught on, and it proved to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my art life, graduating with high distinctions.

After graduating, it felt more natural to continue my pursuit of the arts in an art gallery capacity rather than as a professional artist, as I’d also been working as the University Studio Technician and Gallery Manager.

Growing up in the ’80s, and influenced largely by my art teacher’s interests, I fell in love with the works of Brett Whiteley. Brett’s surrealist approach to the human form, connecting body to landscape, would strongly influence my art practice for years to come.

Brett Whiteley in his Surry Hills studio, 1985. Photo: Gerrit Fokkema / The Sydney Morning Herald. Artwork: © Brett Whiteley, DACS 2022.

After my employment at the university, my first role in a commercial gallery was 20 years ago as a Gallery Director Assistant. Later my roles and responsibilities thankfully expanded to include the entire gamut of Gallery life from Installation, Sales, Curation, Registrar, Administration and Management.

I’ve learnt over the years it’s best to keep focus on individual jobs, as opposed to multitasking. To alleviate stress, I’d prefer to commence and complete a job as they present themselves – Remember now, forget later.

I started at Michael Reid Galleries as Head of Group Operations and Logistics in June last year. The role includes inventory management and logistics of all stock and sold artworks across the network of our galleries and collectors. The gallery is at the forefront of contemporary art in Australia, and I’m honoured to be a member of the family.

People may not know that I collect Original Production Cells from ‘The Simpsons’ and wrote my final university year thesis on the part religion plays in the popular TV show.

Despite the 30+ years ‘The Simpsons’ has been on air, only the first 12 seasons were produced using the traditional hand-painted cel technique, reminiscent of the Golden Age of Animation. A classical time of pen and ink — the art is fun, colourful, and joyous. It’s not serious art and doesn’t want to be. What started as a spontaneous purchase has turned into a collection and interest I am now able to share with my daughter.

The Simpsons original production cel. Example from Charity Stars.

On staying honest in the art world, I ask myself how I would like to be treated, both as an artist and collector. Respect the passion, time and experience in creating the piece and be thankful for the trust and commitment of the collector.

If I had to specify a favourite artwork I’ve been lucky enough to see, I would need to choose Jackson Pollock’s ‘Alchemy’ at Peggy Guggenheim Venice. The awe-inspiring experience of being in the presence of this masterpiece, in my favourite city, was truly unforgettable.

Many years ago, I had the privilege of working with a great artist in preparation for his upcoming exhibition. As a plein air painter, I accompanied him to the location to watch him paint for hours. We spoke about life, love and the importance of mixing egg whites into pigments. The lines became truly blurred between art dealer and artist, and we became friends.

In promoting his artwork to a collector, it was made easier to delve into the true meaning and emotion of the piece through the artist’s eye, and I was able to honestly speak about the subject with admiration and respect.

A year or so later, the same collector returned to the gallery and generously gifted me the artwork as they remembered how fondly I spoke about the piece. Again, blurring the lines, this time between art dealer and collector.

On staying honest in the art world, I ask myself how I would like to be treated, both as an artist and collector. Respect the passion, time and experience in creating the piece and be thankful for the trust and commitment of the collector.

The future of the art market will largely take place online. As shown in previous years, especially with the current pandemic, we see a substantial shift towards digital promotion, online viewing rooms, virtual studio visits and, ultimately, sale of art.

Fortunately, in order for this to be effective, a high level of trust needs to first be established and maintained between art dealer and collector. A trust best formed by old fashioned, one on one interactions.

‘Alchemy’, 1947 by Jackson Pollock. Peggy Guggenheim Collection, acquired 1976. Image courtesy of Artsy.