Monday, April 02, 2012

Is it time for the City Gallery and Te Papa to partner up?

Given the Wellington City Council’s drive to cut costs and Te Papa’s struggle to develop a credible contemporary art presence, maybe now's the time for the City Gallery and Te Papa to get together on a permanent basis. It could be a simple and elegant solution and benefit both. 

Te Papa would get an established contemporary art space, curatorial support and a way to escape its embarrassing inability to build a new art gallery. Forget Te Papa North. With the City Gallery spaces the national museum could properly show not only its own large contemporary collection but also mount an expanded programme of temporary national and international exhibitions. Historical art could stay where it is in the, almost entirely history-focused, Mothership with a bit more space to play with.

For the Wellington City Council there'd be a significant cut in operating costs at a time when it is under major financial pressures. And it would still keep a serious contemporary art presence on Civic Square.

City Gallery would get access to a large collection, curatorial support and avoid death by a thousand cuts - door charges, scaled down budget and reduced staff. It would also have a place in the queue for Te Papa marketing clout. 

Sure there are risks. Bureaucratic overload is one. Hi-jacking by other Te Papa interests is another. And you could certainly expect resistance by existing power structures along with in-fighting over ownership and status. But it's got to be an idea worth considering.

Te Papa struggles with contemporary art and the City Gallery is going to struggle with funding and resources one way or another. Besides the City Gallery has already dipped its toe into these waters, showing works from Te Papa’s collections and mounting joint exhibitions (and let's not forget Oceania). Making the relationship closer and more formal could easily be the best thing for both of them.