Updated: Jun 16, 2020
By Joey McGinn We talk to the director of the new Informality Gallery, Frederick McDonald, about bringing international contemporary art to Henley and what it takes to curate a great show.
Tell us a little about your work and your background
I've worked in the art world for nearly ten years and originally trained as an artist. At 19, I began working in Cork Street in Mayfair, and then spent my last five years in Australia as a consultant for a leading gallery. In Australia, I began to philanthropically support institutions and became president of a Young Members board for the Art Gallery of NSW. I returned to the UK last year to partner with a collector and open Informality gallery. I'm still an advocate of supporting institutions such as our local River and Rowing Museum, Tate, Serpentine Galleries and the Sydney Biennale.
What made you decide to open a gallery - and choose Henley?
I always dreamed of opening my own gallery - so I’m very fortunate to have this realised whilst I am still young. I choose Henley for a number of reasons, our gallery is agile and so in addition to our program in the gallery, we also support artists site specifically and at art fairs. I realised there were not many galleries around the area that introduce contemporary international artists and I really enjoy bringing something new to an area; its proximity to London is great for us. I am also an avid walker and rock climber and I love the outdoors, Henley is like living on a retreat with the river and The Chilterns, and I think artists respond to what is here. The community here is very vibrant and the town’s major events already hold an exciting audience.
How do you find new artists to exhibit? Can you give us some insight into the creative process behind a show?
Through working in the industry, there are certain exhibitions/galleries/studios in which I find are good places to start. I also find artists on my travels, and art fairs are also fun to investigate! I try to have a framework, for example, our gallery supports artists who create work about the environment.
Planning a show takes quite some time, we work 3/4 months in advance with the artist producing a relevant press release. It is important that we as curators and the artist focus on how the work is relevant to a contemporary audience. Each show is different and planning around the audience and how the curation layout can describe the artist's message are the most important factors.
Describe your typical working day
This sounds like a cliché, but it is one of the reasons I really enjoy working in the art world, I work on the most relevant things as they arise. Most mornings, I exercise to help concentrate my mind and often start my day with research. Then I am mostly on a calls with artists, collectors and curators planning the next project or sharing information. Most evenings, I am at an event or catching up with other art world enthusiasts talking overly ambitious BIG ideas!
What has been the biggest highlight and biggest challenge to date?
My biggest highlight was our recent exhibition with Jamie North in London. I have admired Jamie's practise for such a long time and I have always wanted to work on a project together - it was just a very special couple of weeks.
My biggest challenge was overcoming the insecurities which come when taking a leap, but every day the world offers an opportunity and I am very fortunate.
Best nugget of wisdom you can share with your fellow Creative Ducks? Consider yourself. Each time you look after yourself enables you to concentrate on the things you are passionate about. Tell us about any highlights coming up on the calendar.. We have plenty! This year will hopefully see our entry into a major art fair, but we also have some incredible artists and events coming to Henley. In February we exhibit and very talented young Swiss painter, Diane Chappalley. In April we are showing a co-curated exhibition around concepts of the moon. In September we are hosting a residency with an artist in St Ives! Find out more at https://informality.co/