Sophie Vander, the founder of online art gallery Curatorial & Co, says the wheels were in motion for her new bricks-and-mortar gallery space in Redfern long before March’s lockdown sent the city indoors.

“It was already in the pipeline,” she tells Broadsheet “I started looking last November and could not find anything. Then we got to March, it was the beginning of Covid, and I walked into this space and the angels started singing. I was like, ‘This is it. What do I do?’”

Curatorial & Co supports artists and showcases their work, plus it has an art-consultancy arm, advising commercial and residential developers, architects and designers. Vander needed a space that could accommodate an office, a showroom and storage areas. The expansive, light-filled site in Redfern was a perfect fit.

“I had to decide if I should put everything on the backburner and stop, or if I should just keep pushing forward,” she says of operating in the pandemic. “And I’m not one to stop. So I decided: I’ve got this far; if I lose it all, I lose it all.”

The physical Curatorial & Co gallery opened in August and, thankfully, lose it all she did not.

“The complete opposite happened,” she says. “The pandemic hit hard and people kept buying art. April was our biggest month ever. Suddenly, people were home and staring at blank walls. We were sending work all over the country and overseas. People who still had the means to do so were buying art for their homes, for their sanity, for their comfort. People were extreme-nesting.”

Vander is the kind of tastemaker you want to help curate your art collection. After graduating from UNSW’s College of Fine Arts, she entered the magazine world, becoming the editor of Virgin Australia’s in-flight magazine, Voyeur, at 22. Since then, she’s edited publications across Australia, the US and Asia, and worked as a curator and interior designer. After 10 years living overseas, Vander founded Curatorial & Co in 2015. The digital gallery now represents 40 artists and designers from Australia and overseas – 80 per cent of whom are women.

“That wasn’t a strategic thing. One of the things I found when I was looking for artists was that many happened to be female artists who had come to their artistic creative practice in midlife,” says Vander. “They may have been involved in another industry prior, or raised children, and then they’ve put their time into their own creative practice. It just happened, quite by chance, that those women seem to be a good chunk of my stable. I think I’m drawn to them because there’s a surety, a maturity and a confidence that comes out in their work.”

It was important to Vander to create a space that wasn’t stark or stiff. The 300-square-metre gallery has earth-toned rugs on the floor and bright, dynamic works on walls painted in deep, rich colours. The space is fluid, with moveable walls to accommodate different shows and events. As with the digital platform, works across painting, sculpture, ceramics and multimedia are showcased. There’s a focus on making the art world accessible for new buyers and introducing seasoned collectors to artists they may not have heard of.

The gallery installs a new, free show every month, with each one set to run for 10 days. Art openings are very different during coronavirus, and Vander says she’s enjoying the intimacy of having just 20 people come through at a time for one-hour sessions (bookings are essential).

Until October 24, the gallery is hosting Wollongong-based artist Katrina O’Brien’s solo exhibition The Unearthing of Words. O’Brien used music to dictate how she painted her large-scale mixed-media works on paper, which are suspended from the gallery beams in a checkerboard formation. The exhibition has been designed so patrons walk among the works, and on select days, the English National Ballet’s Maeve Nolan dances between the pieces to music chosen by the artist.

From October 28 until November 4, paper sculptor Stuart McLachlan and photographer Simon Cardwell will present a photographic series, Acquiesce, imagining a post-human world where intricate paper skeletons interact among living plants and rock.

Curatorial & Co
1/175 Cleveland Street, Redfern

Mon to Fri 9am–5pm