Sydney gallery owner Conny Dietzschold died in Germany on Friday after a long battle with cancer.
While she will be remembered for her flamboyant “bottle red” hair and towering stature, many will also remember her for her role in introducing many international artists to Australia’s commercial gallery landscape.
Writer and curator Claire Taylor knew Dieztschold well as the director of her gallery. She described: “Conny was a figure like no other in the Australian contemporary art community. A strong personality that some have found jarring. She had equally strong ideals and was driven by an enormous sense of trust in the artists she represented.
She established the Conny Dietzschold Gallery in 1989, formerly Die Weisse Galerie, and presented a full program in spaces in Sydney, Cologne and, later, Hong Kong.
Dietzschold was among the first residents of 2 Danks Street Arts Complex, Waterloo (Sydney), developed by patron Leo Christie, which opened in 2001. It was a thriving centre.
Independent curator Judith Blackall said: “I remember when Conny came to Sydney and opened the space in Danks Street. There was excitement that a German gallerist had come to Australia.
That same year, she established her space in Cologne, which would be a platform to show Australian and New Zealand artists abroad.
Dietzschold had a real international list of artists – but not with great fanfare. It was just his way of approaching contemporary art, and it was an expanded view that benefited audiences here in Australia.
“Connie was very enthusiastic about contemporary art and was seen as a colorful gallery identity,” added artist Tom Loveday. “She showed a lot of European artists as well as Australian artists.”
This stable of artists came from Germany, Singapore, Italy, Korea, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Brazil, Norway and America.
“At the base of his gallery model was an approach based on cultural exchange: representing Australian artists in Germany and representing international artists in Australia. She has worked closely with Austrade, the Goethe Institut and the consulates in Sydney to help her artists travel to make the most of these initiatives,” Taylor said.
“I loved the way she talked about her artists; she highly valued her role as an educator,’ said artist Elizabeth Day, who also took note of Dietzschold’s annual festive celebrations, saying she had ‘really gone to town to greet people’ and that ‘Conny had incredible warmth about him.’
She also set up Multiple Box Sydney – first as a side section of her Danks Street space specializing in edited prints and artist multiples – then later launched as a online art store.
Visual poet and artist, Richard Tipping said: “Visiting Conny Dietzschold’s multiple box was like walking into a lollipop shop in Art Heaven, filled with small sculptures and impossible, bright prints that both challenged the eye and mind.”
He continued: “…it was an international area with no passport required. Conny’s enthusiasm for postmodern art, with the constant support of her husband Florian Schaeffer, has made Multiple Box a special place for over a decade.
“Conny believed deeply in the idea that art was for everyone, whether through art in the public domain or through the relative price accessibility of multiples. Exhibitions such as solo shows by American artist Kurt Perschke to coincide with his Red Ball Project in Sydney for Art & About, or Christo and Jeanne-Claude editions, are examples of how she has been a pioneer in demystifying public art and demonstrating its accessibility,” Taylor said.
But the Danks Complex succumbed to pressure from encroaching developers and closed in 2013. She continued to attend a number of international art fairs each year, and collaborated with a gallery in Hong Kong to present exhibitions , while looking for a new Espace Sydney.
In 2015, she reopened a space in Sydney at 99 Crown Street, Darlinghurst, after an expensive refurbishment. In some ways, keeping the space afloat was a challenge.
“Like all of us, she had her flaws, but she was truly fabulous,” Day said, adding that “many misunderstood her.”
This is a reflection continued by Taylor: “The GFC has seen the closure of many galleries in Sydney. It is to his credit that Conny found alternative premises and kept the doors of the gallery open for so many years afterwards under very difficult commercial conditions, without the support of a financial backer.
“Few galleries can claim a track record of more than 25 years, which Conny has done through his German and Australian initiatives.”
Think outside the box
The gallery described had “an emphasis on new trends in conceptual, concrete and constructive art.” It was an exciting prospect for the retail gallery industry in Australia, and it meant a breath of fresh air.
“Conny Dieztschold’s galleries were very important in creating a platform for Australian artists whose work was conceptual or critical, representing artists whose work she found compelling rather than commercially driven” , Talyor said.
Speaking to artist Mark Booth, he described: “Conny has always supported artists who (like me) had unconventional practices and who thought outside the box. It wasn’t just a matter of marketing and selling. She had a certain aesthetic, a minimalism and a non-conformism that she sought in the work of her artists.
Day told ArtsHub: “She was importing Christo prints from her large installations and really endorsing a practice outside of the normal realms, promoting public art and installation before any other gallery was interested in this practice – it was amazing for me as an artist working in the installation.’
She continued, “At the time, I was doing grass work, which was completely unsellable. She was so brave. But the flip side was her downfall, that she was so idealistic and puristic in celebrating the kind of work she showed.
Taylor recalled setting up an exhibition of Day’s with Dietzschold on one occasion, saying, “A highlight of my time at the gallery, [was] a late-night conversation after the installation of a solo exhibition by Elizabeth Day, which included an installation titled The fragility of good, 2004, in knitted white baby wool. This work was hung in dialogue with one of the Unraveling the shape pieces: a framed and unraveled hood, the eyelets and mouth of which remained intact… The conversation about these works dragged on until a sleepless night and left me in absolutely no doubt as to the high esteem in which Conny held its artists and its belief in the importance of their practice.
“She was a tireless advocate for her artists to work beyond gallery contexts and had a very clear vision of the potential for artworks integrated into property developments and infrastructure projects,” she added. .
“I hope she will be remembered for all the fearless conversations she started,” Taylor concluded.
Dietzschold is survived by her husband Florian Schaeffer.