Friday, September 28, 2007

Open to suggestion

In the theatre, companies gather the morning after opening night to get notes on what can be done to make the show better. If a play doesn’t capture an audience there is a crisis. The cast and crew are pulled together and they work on it plus the promotion and marketing are reviewed. If a production fails at the box office it is often pulled altogether and something else put on in its place. With feature films the audiences determine the length of the run. If people speak with their feet the movie is kicked out of the theatre. So here’s the question. Why is it that art exhibitions stay open for their full scheduled three or four months run whatever the response to them or the number of visitors? Are exhibitions ever tuned once a few hundred people have had a chance to look at it? Do curators ever bring in a few people to give notes and make suggestions of how an exhibition might be improved? What is it about art museums that has convinced them feel that their shows are perfect from day one? While we suspect this resistance will be far more about the needs of the bureaucrats (timetabling, processes, resources) than cultural confidence, it has put them in an uncomfortable corner, and nailed them there. A successful quarter-year run is a long stretch for any creative enterprise. It would be a blockbuster for a movie and Harry Potter for a novel. How many exhibitions in New Zealand warrant this amount of time unchanged or updated? (And we don’t think resting watercolours counts). Most of our museums are eager to trot out audience figures to prove their worth. What would happen if they also used their audiences to test and improve the quality of their exhibitions after opening day?

Image: People lined up for a typical exhibition at a public Art Gallery (simulation).