Friday, September 23, 2016

Listing toward the future

The Govett-Brewster has finally published the history originally commissioned for its fortieth anniversary in 2010 (mumble … mumble … declare … mumble … interest … mumble … mumble … involved … mumble). As the owners of the fearless-supporters-of-contemporary-art brand for so many years, the GB has of course put its contemporary foot forward but also included is a list of 45 ‘moments’. These are of varying page lengths, fully illustrated and take up 100 pages i.e. about one third of the book. It’s one of those best-of-what-we’ve-done in 45 key events. There are a few conferences, an auction, the launch the Len Lye Foundation, but most of the moments are the bread and butter of art museums, exhibitions. And so to the counting. 

Of the 35 exhibitions listed just four are solo exhibitions by women; 31 exhibitions or 89 percent of the total selected are by men. The list also only gives three moments to solo exhibitions by Maori artists (Michael Parekowhai’s Kiss the Baby Goodbye, Lisa Reihana’s Digital Marae and Peter Robinson’s Snow Ball Blind Time). Women do a little better in the pages devoted to illustrating the collection with 24 percent of the pages. Yes, lists can be risky and so revealing. 

Take the spread of ‘moments’ attached to each of the Govett-Brewster’s directors, for instance. Top of the list, with seven moments each, are Gregory Burke (1998-2005) and Rhana Devenport (2006-2013). Lowest on this scale with four or less (we exclude John Maynard who was primarily involved in setting the place up rather than running it) are Bob Ballard (1971-1975), Ron O’Reilly (1975-1979) and Dick Bett (1979-1984). The list makers, like list makers everywhere, clearly thought that the quality went up as they got closer to their own time.

Image: Now showing: a history of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery (with cover image, Dane Mitchell's Your memory of rain released 2011) plus spread featuring Christine Hellyar's Country clothesline 1976