Wednesday, April 13, 2016


The popularization of the art museum experience and the consequential need for heightened security has had two dramatic and damaging effects on the art: the glazing of oil paintings and the use of barriers. One of the great pleasures of seeing art in studios or in private houses is that neither of these two constraints get a look in. Strangely the most extreme form of security we have ever seen was in a library last week. 

The University of Otago is fortunate enough to own one of Colin McCahon’s most romantically lavish works. It is the commissioned painting Waterfall (theme and variations) 1966 dedicated to philanthropist Mary de Beer. Currently it is attached to a wall in one of the study halls in the library. It's a very large painting and certainly not the sort of thing you'd want anyone to lean a chair against, so a small glass barrier has been installed in front of it. While this isn't optimal, it does feel fair enough with a lot of people moving around the area who are not thinking about art. 

But wait, someone obviously thought that this barrier needed back-up. Maybe students would get their grubby fingerprints all over the glass and then where would we be? And so elaborate decorate stanchions to keep a rope barrier airborne were put in place. OK, enough? Not a bit of it. To stop anyone leaning over the two barriers there is a electronic eye that sets off a very loud and aggressive alarm. The sort of alarm specifically designed to humiliate the offender rather than just warn them to back away. Public art. Gotta love it.