Monday, March 22, 2010

Friends and neighbours

Upper Hutt’s public art gallery Expressions might be small but it has some good spaces, a curator/acting director with an art history degree and an audience as sophisticated as most, and possibly more interested than some. Finance is obviously a challenge in a place without the rating grab of a big city but we’ve seen some good exhibitions there over the years. 

Their current offering Snap shot is on loan from Palmerston North. Drawing on Te Manawa's collections it gives a good slice of the seventies with one startling omission, well a couple in fact. Colin McCahon should be there and isn’t. And there is nothing by Milan Mrkusich either. We suspect Te Manawa decided works by these two artists were too 'valuable' to allow this small venue to show them safely. 

This big gallery swagger is also apparent in Te Manawa’s insistence that all their paintings have barriers in front of them. Apart from Te Papa we can’t think of any other institution that makes this a blanket (and expensive, and time consuming) rule. The irony of it is that if the Upper Hutt audience is as unruly as Te Manawa imagines, these barriers are more likely to trip the rioting bogans and plunge them into the works rather than protect them. In reality it’s just posturing. OK, the Hotere and the Driver have delicate surfaces but the rest could easily cope with the average New Zealand audience without barriers. Besides, as we all know, most art works are damaged by the staff because they are the ones who have to handle them.

These sorts of strict restrictions feel like an unnecessary slight on the people of Upper Hutt, and this from a city that isn’t exactly a major metropolis. In our small art world, if the provincial art galleries won’t trust and support each other, who will?