Friday, November 18, 2016

Spaced out

OK, the ‘news’ is that Te Papa is developing a new space down on level 4. It’s where a cafe and the Britten bike are at the moment. Given that this is Te Papa’s third run at defining space for its art division it feels as though it is still struggling to tell what it calls ‘the story of art’. This round is not exactly a ‘bold’ move but it does seem that at last Te Papa has recognised that art is a relatively cheap way to fill new exhibition spaces and generate new content. The words ‘experiences’ and ‘immersive’ were used too often for comfort, but let’s hope that that was an effort to be on trend rather than a realistic aspiration.

The downstairs space will have eight meter walls (about the same as the current fifth floor gallery) and about 35 percent more space will be added.  The new space will be 860 square meters – a comparison for those who know it - the old Michael Lett space on Great North Road was around 650 square meters). There’ll also be a new staircase to the galleries on floor five. The budget for all of this is $6 million and it will be launched in December 2017.

So what is the ‘new direction’? There isn’t one really, but art has been given priority in the overdue ‘renewal’ of Te Papa. Maori and Pacific art will get increased attention and more collecting resources. Given the $million plus paid for Michael Parekowhai’s piano and the inevitable investment in Lisa Reihana post-Venice, you’d think that this idea was already well in play.  There was some talk of NZ art being given a global focus but we’re not quite sure yet what that means. Talk of collection exhibitions and even curated exhibitions Oh, and women. Te Papa will fill gaps etc and foreground women’s art. Ironically the mock-up of the new gallery features three giant guy works with Gretchen Albrecht and maybe behind the piano an small Ani O’Neill standing in for women.

So a PR exercise really demanding the usual Te Papa wait-and-see. Still at least there is an acknowledgement that art has the potential to attract audiences in its own right. But we kind of knew that already. 

Image: Warren and Mahoney sketch plan for the new gallery space