Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The Peter principle

In the eighties we curated an exhibition called When art hits the headlines. It traced a long story of outrage, contention, hilarity and humiliation as the public, funders and taste makers set to about who got to decide what was and what was not art, what was and what was not good art and who was going to pay for it. In an age of increased professionalism art controversies are usually headed off before they erupt, but every now and then a Councillor will raise his (usually) head and observe that something is amiss. That’s clearly what happened in New Plymouth last week when a group of Peter Peryer photographs was put in front of a Council purchase sub committee. Councillor Colin Johnson challenged one, "I like art, and I like some of these pictures as well ... but I can't see the point in the carcass one, and I see it costs $2608." 

The Govett-Brewster’s director’s Simon Rees was quick to point out the irony that the ‘carcass’ was in fact a movie prop and (embarrassingly for the Councillor) a prop used in a movie shot locally #gottalovethelocal. While art controversies are often conceived in Council Chambers they are usually delivered by the media. Usually that media is WTFing over art but they're not above turning around and scorning the same behaviour from a local official. This was what happened in New Plymouth.

In earlier decades media flare-ups like this were usually distressing to the artist involved. Colin McCahon's treatment and his response to it are the textbook demonstration of such negative impacts. Today, it's often different. An email from Peter Peryer letting us know about the fuss was gleefully headed, "At it again!"