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“Art at the very heart”: Sullivan+Strumpf’s Flack-designed Melbourne gallery

Borne from a long-time friendship between Joanna Strumpf, Ursula Sullivan and Flack Studio, Sullivan+Strumpf’s Melbourne gallery steps away from the generic commercial gallery model.

“Art at the very heart”: Sullivan+Strumpf’s Flack-designed Melbourne gallery

Ursula Sullivan (left) and Joanna Strumpf (right) at Sullivan+Strumpf in Melbourne, photography by Mel Savage.

When it comes to designing an art gallery space, the flamboyance of David Flack and Flack Studio may not immediately come to mind. Yet, when Sullivan+Strumpf set about creating a new Melbourne gallery there could be no other: “They’re really the only people we know, who put art at the front and centre of every project that they do. When they’re designing, the first thing they think of is how this room is going to be built around a Karen Black, a Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran or a Sydney Ball. For us, that idea of having art [at] the very heart of design is something that we can really get behind,” says Joanna Strumpf.

Sullivan+Strumpf Melbourne Gallery
Tony Albert, ‘Remark’, at Sullivan+Strumpf Melbourne, photography by Christian Capurro.

Moreover, the past three years have seen Flack and the gallery collaborate on myriad projects ranging from interior curation to event and custom commissions. During this time, the late Mark Robinson of Flack Studio was a driving force: “Mark almost dared us to open a gallery in Melbourne. There really wasn’t any other choice for who we’d work with on this project. The whole thing was Flack from beginning to end, it was always going to be,” says Strumpf.

Related: Artist Brendan Huntley join forces with Melbourne fashion label Alpha60

Sullivan+Strumpf Melbourne Gallery
Tony Albert, ‘Remark’.

In terms of delivering a space that places art without distraction, Strumpf felt that Flack’s own experience with galleries came into play. “David spends a lot of time in art galleries, he’s actually quite besotted with art, whether he’s traveling, or whether it’s just a normal Sunday in Melbourne, he’s always looking at art and art galleries.”

Tony Albert, ‘Remark’.

To this end, Strumpf felt that Flack would have ideas about what was going to work for the gallery: “Obviously, the walls aren’t painted mustard yellow and we haven’t put down carpet. It is a white-walled gallery with a polished concrete floor – so we’re not pushing any boundaries there. The premise of the main gallery room remains to honour the work of our artists’ first and foremost, with the addition of beautiful, warm spaces that orbit it. We feel this offers some respite from the generic commercial gallery model,” says Strumpf who worked with her partner Ursula Sullivan in consultation with Flack towards a range of spaces that would support the gallery proper.

Sullivan+Strumpf directors Joanna Strumpf (left) and Ursula Sullivan (right), photography by Anna Kucera.

Key to these deliberations was the ideas around visitor experience and levels of comfort and engagement. To this end a warm and welcoming layer has been introduced with reception far from the intimidating model many galleries deliberately engage. Indeed, this area is flooded with natural light (thanks to the large array of skylights over the gallery space) and overtly of Flack design. Here a warm ambiance emanates from a bespoke brass reception and bookcase filled with books and art: “We intended for people to be immersed in a welcoming atmosphere from the moment they enter the gallery, the reception provides that immediately personal and familiar feeling,” says Strumpf.

Sullivan+Strumpf Melbourne Gallery
Tony Albert, ‘Remark’.

The back of house rooms are similarly well considered, with the office pairing functionality and beauty with ease. Fluted glass softens light and blurs public and private space without feeling closed off. The kitchen too is gorgeous with stone splash back, bench tops, and shelving, where artworks and flowers are placed.

Sam Jinks, ‘Hope in the Wilderness’, at Sullivan+Strumpf Melbourne, images courtesy the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf.

The preview room is a space the gallerists have found useful in Sydney and were keen to see Flack put his spin on: “We wanted to create another space in Melbourne that allowed us to do the same thing that we do in in Sydney, which is to show art, but also to create an environment where people are happy to sit and relax, and talk and enjoy themselves, and feel like how they might feel if they were at home with this art,” says Strumpf.

Sam Jinks, ‘Hope in the Wilderness’.

Centred by a Flack-designed brass pedestaled table of pale green onyx the room is decidedly Flack: “David chose all of the furnishings for the preview room, so we’ve got a super cool couch and two purple, velvet, mid 70s Italian chairs to die for. It’s a space where everyone wants to hang out,” says Strumpf.


Flack Studio

Tony Albert, ‘Remark’.

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