Cj Hendry's 'Straya'
A few weeks age I found myself waiting in line for another art exhibition and it was a long one, 2 hours in fact! The last time I waited 2 hours in line for art, was for entry to the Uffizi in Florence (oh to travel again one day). This time the wait was for the Straya exhibition (or ‘expedition’ to my 10yr old) by Australian artist Cj Hendry. The 2 hour wait (caused by such a large number of people) was a testament to Hendry's ability to draw a crowd.
My reason for visiting the exhibition was; 1 part ‘I love creative stuff’, 1 part ‘I love a good art shenanigan’ and whole lot of ‘FOMO’ (Fear Of Missing Out) so I had to go and experience it.
I have followed Hendry's progress for many years as the artists social media ‘activity’ had triggered my research journey into how contemporary artists can leverage the global connectedness for financial success. More on that later, back to 'Straya'.
Image gallery above: Carter, M. (2021) Installation views of Straya by Cj Hendry.
I was pleasantly surprised to see the work in real life, it’s as if the hype of the exhibition had overshadowed the work itself. When I entered the yellow box structure (where the art was), I suddenly remembered I was there to see art! Hendry’s hyperreal pencil drawings demonstrated a high level of technical skill and seeing them up close gave me a strong sense of the authenticity of the artist. That is, there was evidence of the human creator in the work and that was something I hadn't thought about in our digital art world. More on authenticity later too.
Image gallery above: Carter, M. (2021) Merchandise and installation views of Straya by Cj Hendry.
So what was the secret to Hendry's success? I believe it was the combination of the following:
Build excitement in your audience – Hendry did a brilliant job of this in the weeks leading up to the exhibition. The artist did a ‘traveling’ pop up style exhibition in the weeks before the main event.
Provide opportunities for your audience to create their own content to share with others. Hendry provided exhibition visitors with tote bags and thongs to use in the sandy pavilion. This resulted in loads of shareable content.
Merchandise - Hendry brings a strong merch game. Her audience sold out all merchandise on day 2 of the exhibition. Merchandise may not be right for you or your long-term strategy but if you’re ok with commercialising your practice go for it!
Be dog friendly - WHAAAATT? Yes, dogs were allowed in the exhibition space and the number of pooches popping up on the socials afterwards was crazy! On another level the dog friendly attitude softened the barrier to the art world for many non arty people.