Friday, April 24, 2009

But that was then

Having stumbled on the vanishing of Peter McLeavey last week, we’ve been in a revisionist frame of mind. Not that you’d need to be very focused to pick up the audacious reversioning of history by the City Gallery in Wellington. To fill the gap while they wait for their new gallery to be finished, the City Gallery team has created a brochure both to announce the new spaces and reaffirm their importance. “Over the last fifteen years City Gallery Wellington has attracted critical and public acclaim”.

No harm in some hyperbole, but 15 years? On the back of the brochure this 15-year history theme is further developed in a timeline of exhibition highlights and it is also reflected in the City Gallery Wikipedia entry. But hang on. As Seddon Bennington, CEO of Te Papa, will tell you the gallery actually started under his directorship in 1980 as the Wellington City Art Gallery.

Before moving to its present location in Civic Square the City Gallery (nee Wellington Art Gallery) had been in a temporary building in Victoria Street by Chews Lane and before that in the old TVNZ studios across the road where the Public Library is today. There is a brief mention of the missing years on the City Gallery’s web page: “Established in 1980, City Gallery Wellington was the first significant non-collecting exhibition based public gallery in New Zealand.” (You can also find some of them if you dig into the gallery's immensely agravating exhibition archive, so they are part of the City Gallery's history).

The gallery's new promotional brochure, however, while authoritatively titled “Looking back: A History of firsts,” ignores the firsts of its first 13 years. This means dropping important markers like Shadow of style (probably the first public museum exhibition to show Peter Robinson, Shane Cotton, Ronnie Van Hout and Giovanni Intra), the first presentation of Shona Rapira’s Nga Morehu (made for her exhibition Whakamamae with Robyn Kahukiwa in 1988), as well as shows like Drawing Analogies, Rear Vision and international projects such as David Hockney photographs and Russians Brodsky & Utkin’s Palazzo Nero. There are of course many others that we can’t remember – which is kinda the point of revisionist history. Instead of dropping its past behind it like an unwanted tail, the City Gallery should consider celebrating it.