Monday, February 14, 2011

Break dancing

Large public art museums are not usually big fans of process. It wasn’t always so. In the mid-1970s many of the art museums in New Zealand invited Billy Apple to serve up a dish of corrections to them as he toured around the country. His critical process became their opportunity to shape up, and many of them did. But today the agenda has changed with the emphasis shifted inwards to the institutions' processes rather than the artist's. Advance planning - with the growing role of marketing and design – damp down the potential of opportunities coming as artists work out ideas inside the gallery spaces. When outcomes are nailed down ahead of time in the project plan the chances of surprises are slim to non existent.

An exciting exception to this rule has been played out in the Christchurch Art Gallery exhibition De-Building curated by Justin Paton. Here artists and the Gallery have worked together to create an exhibition that speaks both for the artists' process and the processes of the Gallery itself. 

Billy Apple, as we mentioned earlier, is the father of this kind of shenanigans and he’s there, of course, respectfully placed at the head of the exhibition. Peter Robinson continues his run of successful large-scale installations with Cache where multiple shaped metal rods discipline the sheets and blocks and curves of polystyrene into an imposing walk-through environment. 

Robinson’s cavorting and Callum Morton’s massive attention seeking crate are beautifully off-set by tiny (we missed them on the first pass) lookalike raw plugs made of turquoise sunk into the wall. Turns out they custom-made by UK artist Susan Collis and come accessorised with a white gold self-tapping screw complete with sapphire stud. 

Fiona Connor's installation What you bring with you to work (purchased by the Christchurch Art Gallery) has been installed into walls that were built for the Ron Mueck exhibition. Looking through her windows (based on the bedroom windows of guards working at ACCA in Melbourne) you can see the art gallery’s process laid bare for all to see in bits and pieces left behind from the Mueck exhibition, nail holes, fittings, dust and debris and, on one exposed wall a sheet of instructions left over from when the Gallery was commandeered by Civil Defence during the early days following the Christchurch earthquake last September. In this context the reveal felt acutely personal, although maybe more the remnants of a nightmare than a dream.

Image: Left, detail of Fiona Connor’s What you bring with you to work and right, Civil Defence notice revealed by the window through the wall.