What I've Learned - Ashleigh Jones - Michael Reid

What I’ve Learned – Ashleigh Jones

What I've Learned

Michael Reid’s Sydney Gallery Manager, Ashleigh Jones, grew up in a creative world, and after a brief venture into Human Rights, redirected herself to a life of art. For the curator, experiencing art is more than a physical entity; however, Giotto’s Weeping Angels at the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi left a lasting impact for years to come

Editing by Emma-Kate Wilson

Growing up, my life was filled with music and art. My mother’s side are all jazz musicians, with my uncle Vince Jones an ARIA award winning singer songwriter for his contribution to Australian jazz, and my father is a practising artist. As a child, the loungeroom was always filled with mum’s muso friends having lively debates like whether Alice or John Coltrane is more talented.

Christmas time was usually spent with my father in Cannes, France. I would visit his studio just off the riviera during the day, and he would share with me all the new works he had created since my last visit, then we would visit the museums and galleries in Nice. The evenings were spent with my grandmother learning her grandmother’s recipes like slow-cooked rabbit. Christmas time was a time of reconnecting with my French family and getting to know my dad’s culture. Most importantly, it was a time to learn about art.

Giotto’s Weeping Angels at the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi worked their way under my skin at an early age — how an artist in the dark ages could depict such fervent suffering. One little angel is ripping his shirt open in anguish, and another is so taken with his onslaught of misery his wings fail him as if forgetting he is an entity of the air. I was lucky enough to see these works in person during my last visit to Italy. They didn’t disappoint.

As a teenager, I was quite taken with the idea of becoming a Human Rights Lawyer, so my initial degree right after school was in Government and International Relations. But once I noticed I was choosing all my electives in art history subjects, I knew it was time to follow the path that was more aligned with me.

No. 35 Scenes from the Life of Christ: 19. Crucifixion (detail), by Giotto di Bondone b. 1267, Vespignano, d. 1337, Firenze.

Art is a manifestation of thoughts, ideas, feelings, memories, culture and much more.

My first job in the arts was address writer at the Australian Centre of Contemporary Art in Melbourne. It’s probably not right to say it was a high-pressure job, but if you know my handwriting, I definitely felt the squeeze.  After my handwriting waned in fluidity when addressing Daniel Boyd’s exhibition opening invitation to Cate Blanchett, I was swiftly removed from my post. My interest in writing to my pen-pal soon followed suit.

Today, I’m the manager of Michael Reid’s Sydney gallery. I started late 2020. I wear a lot of hats, i.e., marketing, logistics, writing, liaising with artists, sales and ensuring that our collectors have a great experience when interacting with our gallery. I’m grateful that my role is varied in this way. It’s very much a supportive role, working alongside friend and colleague Director Daniel Soma.

I don’t have a favourite artwork. Art is a manifestation of thoughts, ideas, feelings, memories, culture and much more. I couldn’t choose just one artwork as my favourite, just like I couldn’t pinpoint one favourite aspect of being alive.

I enjoy the rare moments where collectors ask for my curatorial advice, especially when I’m given minimal parameters and maximum trust. It’s the ultimate creativity for me. It’s like curating an exhibition specifically for one person to enjoy. It’s a real honour. It’s an intimate thing to be trusted with.

An image from a recent Michael Reid Object campaign curated by Ashleigh Jones which looked at the legacy of future aesthetics in modern design.

Art has always been coveted throughout history dating back to Lascaux Caves in the Palaeolithic period. Art collecting is part of human nature

Because our Sydney gallery works with Australia’s leading photographers, we have amazing access to stock to curate into our clients homes. I’ve curated a few shows at commercial galleries around Sydney, but I’ve recently had to pause this passion of mine while I finished my Masters in Curating at UNSW. Now graduated, I look forward to diving straight back into that world, and applying what I’ve learnt in curating for collectors.

I believe the art market is defined by collectors. It is defined by human nature’s unquenchable desire to collect. Art has always been coveted throughout history dating back to Lascaux Caves in the Palaeolithic period. Art collecting is part of human nature. Collecting and hoarding is a primal activity that even magpies and squirrels engage with.

So, in the sense of the art market, I would say this constant current is its enduring and defining feature, and that’s why during this pandemic, we didn’t see the art market slow down; if anything, it sped up because we needed that primal endorphin release. What defines the art world is a different question all together. I think the definition of the art world rests and is underpinned by galleries.

For a long time, the art world painted itself into a corner. Galleries in the past have taken the esoteric and erudite position of “this is not for you, you won’t understand it, and that’s why it’s too expensive for you”. But with the dissemination of the visual through the digital, and of course I can’t mention the digital age without mentioning Instagram, has exploded that stance and democratised who gets to access what.

Michael Reid Galleries have never painted themselves into a corner, and it’s refreshing to work with people who eagerly offer access to information, not only that, but make it easy to access. And it’s important to note that the intellectual doesn’t have to be lost in this process; you can be approachable without dumbing your audience down. I think the art world will take a while to have a complete paradigm shift; art is a slow thing. However, I forecast the art world will move in this direction more and more.

Art is inherently an honest thing. Buying art is fundamentally an emotional act. The client voluntarily chooses to add a voice to their walls when they purchase an artwork, walls that they will spend most of their time contained by, even more so during the pandemic. This is always in the back of my mind when serving clients, so it’s very important to not be the tainting factor within that contract. Kind and informative service is paramount.