ACT News

Canberra farewells Joy Warren, doyenne of the local art scene

She introduced a staid young capital to the world of art, ran one of Canberra's first commercial art galleries for 40 years and threw some great parties in the process.

Owner of Solander Gallery Yarralumla, Joy Warren.
Owner of Solander Gallery Yarralumla, Joy Warren. Photo: Melissa Adams

Joy Warren, the doyenne of the Canberra art scene, died on Friday night at the age of 92, less than two years after hosting her last party and exhibition at Solander Gallery on the occasion of its 40th anniversary.

In an interview in 2013, Ms Warren recalled that Canberra was already known as a "cultural wasteland" by the time she arrived.

That was in the 1970s, a decade before the National Gallery of Australia opened and with little sign of the wider art world to be seen anywhere.

She caused a stir when she opened Solander Gallery in Yarralumla, as much for her memorable parties as for the eclectic art she displayed and sold.

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By then, she and her architect husband, Robert Warren (who died in 2002), had travelled widely and were ready to settle in Canberra, although her version of settling had nothing to do with retirement.

In fact, she worked right up until the age of 90, when she held her anniversary show.

In an obituary, Canberra Times art critic Sasha Grishin said Ms Warren had been remarkable in her eclectic eye.

"When [she] opened her Solander Gallery in Yarralumla, together with a broad mix of some of the best contemporary Australian non-Indigenous artists, she also held exhibitions of Aboriginal, Papua New Guinean, Indonesian, African, Eskimo, Turkish, Mexican Peruvian, Indian and Japanese art," he said.

"These were some of the earliest exhibitions of such art to be held in the nation's capital."

During her long career, which included stints as a stage actress and a journalist, she also consulted  private collectors and advised those wishing to start collections from scratch.

She said the only way to begin  was to spend at least a year getting educated.

"[Potential collectors] would start by just looking for at least a year, going to every exhibition they can go to and talking to the people in charge who know what it's all about - educate themselves before they make their first purchase," she said.

She was likely to have played a large part in the education of many art lovers, especially in 1970s Canberra, when she set about bringing art to the city's doorstep.

"We had absolutely nothing to look at, not from the government, no National Gallery, no National Portrait Gallery, nothing like that. If you wanted to see art, you had to come to Joy's place, which was ridiculous," she said.

"It has been my aim and privilege to bring top Australian painters from all over Australia to the capital."

Joy Warren is survived by her two sons, Robert and Boyd, and her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.