Thursday, July 28, 2016

Big, bigger, biggest

How big is too big for an art museum?  No doubt about it, building has turned out to be more fun for directors than collecting or even putting shows together. A feature of NZ’s art museum building boom since the 1980s, is that it has triggered pressure on funds for everything else. Exhibitions, public programmes and collections have to go on the endless hunt for private funding. It’s not just a local problem, of course, as this NY Times article demonstrates. There are profound structural consequences to deal with too which are seldom factored in when everyone is playing with plans and models. As the buildings get bigger, the number on staff grows too, and once you have staff, they want to do things. And that costs money.

Now even the slightest exhibition gets a full schedule of targeted activities and sessions for the kids who have to create sculptures one month and copy paintings the next. Artists cop it too as the new super-sized spaces have got to be filled even though this is not something all artists are good at, even when the dollars are available.

The curious thing is that most of this attention grab just seems to be about getting more people through the door. At a time when capitalism is facing fundamental questions about growth for its own sake, the museums’ claims to social responsibility and sustainability are looking tattered. All this is why, having cracked remarkable attendances with the opening of the new Len Lye Center, the director looks ahead to next year with trepidation when the gloss will be off. ‘I'm terrified,’ he admits.