Having both grown up in New Zealand and finished degrees in Art History, Emma worked for art world luminaries such as Jenny Gibbs and completed an internship with the Guggenheim in New York, while Andrew boldly stepped out on his own with a Christchurch gallery: “I spent a short period of time in America, and then came back and opened the gallery in 1988 somewhat precociously, and naively when I was 22,” says Jensen.
Perhaps it was a daring time to start a gallery with the stock exchange crash of 1987 still fresh in people’s minds. “In retrospect, we were very lucky because we were able to do an apprenticeship on the job – but there was a general sense that it was the worst time to be involved in anything risky and ‘frivolous’ like the arts,” says Jensen.
Countering it with a more positive view, he says: “In some ways, it was the best time because expectations were modest – and then we quietly set about exceeding them. So that right from the get-go, it felt plausible.” So plausible in fact that he was able to open another gallery in Wellington in 1994 and then conflate the two into a major gallery in Auckland in 1997.
Joining Jensen Gallery as gallery manager in the late 90s, by 2011 Fox was appointed director of the renamed gallery Fox Jensen, which coincided with their launch into Australia. Somewhere along the way, they also became a couple. There is a consistent sensibility to both their private collection and the artists they represent. This, however, is getting a bit ahead of their collecting, which started with Jensen’s attraction to mid-century design.
“To be honest, it grew largely out of oddly practical needs. I was looking to furnish both gallery and home, so I started looking on a regular basis at the kind of curious versions of modernism that popped up in New Zealand and Australia; both imported and local variants of the same kind of thing,” says Jensen.
This particular, more “relaxed” style of design was more evident in the baches (New Zealand holiday houses) when Jensen was growing up: “They were invariably filled with what they described as holiday furniture, which would be simple boucle-covered divans and modernist-style ‘radiograms’ and a completely different set of crockery. Versions of modernity, both in terms of design and decoration; items my parents wouldn’t dare have for their proper (more conservative) home,” says Jensen.
Art, understandably, fills the home and office of Fox and Jensen. Artworks (L-R): Mark Francis Jericho and Beta Dub; Koen Delaere Felas Rif and Haunt Me to Do It Again; Pep Llambías Deseo Respirar Silencio
Continuing to collect with a growing understanding and appreciation of design, both their home and gallery are now filled with art, glass and modernist lighting, including the much-loved Castiglioni brothers Snoopy Lamp.
There is also an important and increasingly museological aspect to the collection. Objects accrue meaning for an ancient culture, not just because of the way in which they were made, but the rhythm and repetition of that making over time, and of course, their folding of form and function.
There is a ceremony to the re-making of the same objects which, as Jensen explains, “imbues them with a certain kind of tradition and meaning, that simply comes through the constant intimacy of touch and understanding of material. From Neolithic Chinese material, through to utterly contemporary things – I became aware, that for me, aesthetics and timelines began to merge, even collapse.”
Furniture and lighting, books and plants fill the gallery owner’s home. Artworks (L-R): Elisabeth Vary Untitled; (On bookshelf) Gideon Rubin Untitled (Back); Tracey Snelling Adult Books; Todd Hunter Waiting On A Song; Jan Albers gingeRsouR; African cloth wall hanging
As such, the collection has expanded to include pottery, vessels, fertility figures and all manner of other objects, where the ideas and reasons for making invest objects with meaning that (even subconsciously) becomes evident in the piece.
Most fascinating, it is the same principle whether it be an ancient bowl or contemporary art practice. Contemporary art fills the home with many of the gallery’s represented artists finding a place on their walls.
That said, while the selection of art pieces at home, is mostly democratic, Jensen has, in his own words, been “fairly belligerent” about his aesthetic defining the gallery.
With the gallery achieving a certain degree of notoriety in the late 90s and early 2000s through showing painters such as Helmut Federle, Imi Knoebel, Winston Roeth and Callum Innes on a regular basis, opportunities grew. “I’d love to say that it was completely strategic, but the reality is, there was a modest amount of strategy, combined with considerable good luck. Once you’ve drawn attention to what you do through the quality and nature of the projects, then people begin to take notice, and so [thankfully] other artists, especially from abroad, wanted to be involved with the gallery,” says Jensen.
Expanding on those early defining exhibitions, the gallery has grown to represent artists that cohere because of a sensibility, rather than a style. Though often pigeonholed as a gallery known for lofty abstraction, the reality is somewhat different, with a stable of diverse artists that fit happily together whilst each pursuing their own concerns.
Coen Young, Günter Umberg, Judith Wright, Jan Albers and Tomislav Nikolic are just a few, but each is unique to their own practice. Effectively this allows any number of curatorial outcomes to be selected from the represented artists into homes, public exhibition and the curated shows the gallery is highly regarded for.
In terms of how the couple work together, this aspect is vital, with Jensen doing most of the writing while Fox controls operations. As he explains: “I tend to drive most of the projects, whatever we’re doing. But Emma is organisationally a triumph; she knows exactly what’s going on and where everything is and she is an incredibly articulate sounding board for anything that we decide to do.”
Currently splitting their time between Sydney (with their dog Roki) and Auckland, where their New Zealand iteration Fox Jensen McCrory is located, the gallery and therefore both Jensen and Fox have been constants in the Australian landscape with art fair participation preceding the Sydney gallery opening. While they have been here for 12 years, their impact on the Australian art market is significantly longer.
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