Monday, October 11, 2010

Taste wars

As anyone who's been involved in the visual arts knows, there are many different art worlds. Even artists who go to art school together and share a view of their future often diverge as they are drawn to different kinds of dealers, collectors, enthusiasts, conversations and institutions. 

Usually these different groups ignore each other but every now and then - hold on to your hats - it's TASTE WARS.

Ok, it might not be all-out war, but the Auckland City-sponsored outing of the James Wallace collection at the Pah Homestead certainly looks like the beginnings of a skirmish with the Auckland Art Gallery. 

On one side you have Wallace whose collection is relentlessly shaped by his personal attraction to each individual item and an exhibition display style (very close together, often up near the ceiling, letting the visual clashes fall where they may) that goes against the very grain of museum display aesthetics. The Wallace style is not about showing art to its best advantage so much as showing art. On the other side, well most of you know how the AAG does exhibitions. The selection of works considered worth showing also comes from two very different world views, although there are of course some overlaps.

How did James Wallace end up with his own Public Art Gallery dedicated to his taste and his standards? It seems that when Mayor Banks wanted to put a new theatre into Auckland on Queen Street, the space he badly wanted was already owned by, you got it, James Wallace. He was showing parts of his collection there, so a swap was brokered including a big cash input from Wallace. The location of his collection is now in the newly renovated Pah Homestead, and it was the Mayor himself who opened the first exhibition. Well the Banks factor drove off the cliff on Saturday but you can bet the Wallace people still feel they are on course to become stiff opposition to the AAG, the Auckland City Council web site describes it as, “one of the country’s finest collections of contemporary New Zealand art”. With parking, free entry and without the AAG's public obligations and large staff, it is certainly a very attractive proposition for some of Auckland’s art audiences. 

Will one man’s passion win over institutional convention? The two galleries will no doubt say in public that there is room for both of them, but you can feel it in the air - TASTE WARS.
Image: Peter Madden gets the Wallace treatment