Some things - like the opening speeches at art openings - never change. Openings have followed exactly the same format since forever, but we were reminded of one major change in social functions at art museums by photographs of the Colin McCahon Survey exhibition opening at the Auckland City Art Gallery in 1972.
Apart from a couple of guys leaning against the works during the speeches (that’s still alive and well) it was a bit of a jolt to see people smoking at the opening, in the gallery, and next to the art. Indeed another photograph of the earlier exhibition Painting from the Pacific of 1961 revealed ceramic urns dotted around the floor. Turns out they were for cigarette butts and we're told were made by Len Castle (Hamish Keith has since told us they were made by Barry Brickell - so sorry to both potters for that mistake) on the request of the ACAG. They were no doubt fed up with people slipping fag ends into cavities in sculptures and behind frames.
For a long time eating, drinking and smoking were completely prohibited in areas displaying art works. Made sense. Smoke does the Rembrandt thing with paintings, finger food means greasy fingers and wine is famously acidic.
Now standards are shifting again as indicated by the City Gallery’s “City Gallery Christmas Package” promoted on its web site (you can download the pdf here). Under a photograph of people eating and drinking right next to a large Shane Cotton painting, the gallery tells us, ‘The Foyer/Hancock Gallery is a dramatic venue for Wellington, with dining capacity for 140 guests and cocktail parties easily accommodating 250’ complete with ‘food service, beverage package and background music.”
And to drink? Turns out white wine and fruit juice are ok but, ‘Due to the protection of artworks red wine is not permitted.’ Guess that means a no to the borscht as well.
Image: Len Castle butt bowls, Auckland City Art Gallery 1962