Friday, March 14, 2008

Stairway to heaven

It’s gone now, but the Artspace exhibition You are here with artists Kah Bee Chow, Fiona Connor, Finn Ferrier, Alex Monteith, John Ward Knox and curated by Ariane Craig-Smith was terrific. We had seen work by Fiona Connor before (although we missed her much talked about floor-raising at Gambia Castle) but coming into Artspace and confronting her version of the building’s staircase Props gave that shock of astonishment you always hope for. Even if that were it, it would have been a great exhibition, but there was more. Clear Float by Fiona Connor, Kah Bee Chow and Finn Ferrier, another staircase this one of scaffolding, let you climb up to look out of Artspace’s top line of windows thanks to the the translucent glass being replaced by clear. In one of the back galleries there was another impressive installation, Finn Ferrier’s disciplined floor piece Inanga. All this raises the perennial question around young artists and new work. What now? The window panes have been returned to translucent, but the memory of Artspace as a white cube with a view will stay with us. As for Props, it will be stored under the house by now and Ferrier’s floor work cleaned off. It also seems incredible to us that public institutions are so cautious about purchasing work like this. It can’t be the price. The fact is public galleries struggle to own work like this with their display restrictions (tape on the floor, stanchions and ropes, lots of warnings, to keep their audiences at bay), conservation reports and the availability of high security and storage with its air-conditioning and unrealistic space allocations. But, unless institutions like the Auckland Art Gallery can seriously consider purchases like Props, they are out of the contemporary art game. Why not take on a different set of criteria for purchasing (and protecting) work that refuses to obey the usual standards. You really don’t see that many shows this good. Maybe it’s time for those institutional curators to take a deep breath, and step up.
Images: Top, view from Clear Float. Bottom, Fiona Connor Props