Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Space to Lett

When was it we all started calling dealer galleries ‘space’ as in, “what a great space!”? The first time we remember it was back in the early eighties when we chanced in on a performance. We didn't know it as first but what we thought was the real world turned out to be a performance work in an exhibition of Plaster Surrogates by Allan McCollum

Walking into American Fine Arts, all those years ago, we were greeted by a woman we assumed to be the gallery director. “Isn’t this such a great space,” she said. “Don’t you just love the way the light comes across the room.” We did. She went on in this vein for about ten minutes and then left us to answer the phone. 

It wasn’t until the next day when we returned for another look at the McCollum paintings and heard exactly the same speech addressed to other visitors by not one but three different gallery assistants, that we realized we'd been part of a performance scripted by the artist Andrea Fraser. At that time she was using the word ‘space’ to represent an art world cliché, but like many good clichés, it has resisted ridicule and remains an important part of art language.

In early eighties New Zealand ‘spaces’ were very different from those we experienced in New York. Many still followed the domestic pattern with a couple of small rooms. You can still see this model followed by Peter McLeavey, the man who practically invented the idea. Auckland galleries were always bigger but, as far as we can remember, it took Gary Langsford and John Gow to turn up with the professional art gallery configuration we are familiar with today. These thoughts come from an evening in Auckland introducing the new Michael Lett gallery on Great North Road. An old car garage it has much of the character of the galleries that opened in New York’s Chelsea and later in the Meat Packing District carved out of old taxi garages. Such great spaces.
Image: Lett's new space container