What I've Learned - Lily Fenwicke - Michael Reid

What I’ve Learned – Lily Fenwicke

What I've Learned

Having joined the Berlin gallery full-time in 2020, Lily Fenwicke reveals her first thoughts on the art world and the value of working in a physical gallery while performing the role of Michael Reid’s Head of Digital Engagement between Sydney & Berlin.

Editing by Emma-Kate Wilson

I grew up in Sydney with parents who, under the watchful guidance of none other than Michael Reid himself, collected art on a very modest scale, but one motivated purely by love and enjoyment.

It only happened once in a blue moon, but every time my parents bought home a new piece of art, the house fizzed with anticipation. Even if I didn’t particularly like a piece, not that I had a vocabulary for understanding why at that stage, it simply didn’t matter as my parents’ joy was palpable and contagious. I think this dynamic taught me a lot about the power of art collecting on any scale.

I am really still at the beginning of my arts journey. I completed my Bachelor of Fine Arts/ Bachelor of Arts at the University of New South Wales a few years ago, and my first ever arts role was at Michael’s Elizabeth Bay gallery in my first year of studying. Every Saturday, I would get the train to Kings Cross and spend the day assisting at the gallery. This job was significant for many reasons, but that 10am weekly commute to the gallery in the dying days of Kings Cross as an 18-year-old may have left the most lasting impression.

My joint degree saw me studying Sociology and Anthropology alongside Art History, Ceramics and Performance. I really couldn’t believe my luck each semester as I chose my subjects, finally putting names and theories to interests that had been simmering and expanding in my brain for years.

I returned to Team Reid at the end of 2019, a few months after moving to Berlin, as a casual Gallery Assistant. I spent several months learning the ropes with my colleague, and then COVID hit. Germany began shutting down, as did the rest of the world, and the business moved mostly online. In an act of remarkable foresight, the team had been prepping for a new role focusing on Digital Engagement, and off with it I went. In early 2021, I also took on the role of acting Berlin Gallery Manager, orchestrating all of the day-to-day goings on of our German operation.

I seem to find a new favourite artwork every day. A worn street sign, an old shoe discarded in the gutter, a bright clear sky at the end of a busy Berlin street. Whether it’s in a gallery, on a wall, or floating through the evening sky, I’m moved by art constantly.

I don’t recall when or where I was when I first discovered Tracey Emin’s 1998 artwork My Bed, but I do remember feeling the floor falling beneath me, like when you go up and over a hill in a car. I suppose it overlapped with, and provided kindling for, my graspings towards feminist thinking, and this artwork activated my brain in ways that I didn’t yet know art could. 

Tracey Emin, ‘My Bed’, 1998, TATE.org.uk

Variety is the enemy of boredom. Working with a small and extremely talented team grants me exposure to all different proposals and projects, absorbing information at every turn. Experience running a physical gallery space also meant managing walls, floors, doors, hammers and lights; a lovely tactile contrast to the increasingly online nature of the art world.

If the past few years have shown us anything, it’s that the future is online. However, the seemingly directive nature of this statement is misleading. I think we are yet to fully understand the ways in which the broad and ever-evolving nature of online modes and mediums will impact the future of collecting and the art market.

The last couple of years have turned the world inside out. After 2 and a half years in Berlin I’ve recently been able to return to Sydney for an extended visit, working alongside the ever-growing Michael Reid Team here before heading back over to Europe.

The art world can often seem intimidating and unapproachable, and I’ve had many friends and family members share these thoughts with me. I have to say that I don’t always disagree, but there really is nothing quite like the feeling I experience when I encounter a new piece of art. A soft, but deep sense of resolution, which I’m yet to match elsewhere.

Being based in Berlin with a team spread across Sydney and beyond has its challenges. But what binds us together and keeps the (many, many) wheels turning is utter passion and conviction. Every project, every ambitious endeavour, every seemingly insignificant detail, is cushioned in the knowledge that we work as a team with a collective goal and that everyone brings something to the table.

Authenticity is a palpable, human quality. Never underestimate it. 

Moving to the other side of the world and being quickly followed by a global pandemic and separated from home was intensely challenging. However, being able to work and learn with this team to realise projects for many amazing Australian artists, particularly working alongside Indigenous Australian communities to realise International showings, and sharing this art with European audiences still feels like an astonishing gift.

Every project, every ambitious endeavour, every seemingly insignificant detail, is cushioned in the knowledge that we work as a team with a collective goal and that everyone brings something to the table.

Moving On Up

As an old Comrade, Gough Whitlam once said, It’s time.  The Sydney gallery is growing in artists, turnover, colleagues and