Wednesday, October 05, 2011


Exhibiting sculpture in public institutions is not easy and it has certainly got harder. Back when most of it was shown on plinths it was also kept out of harm's way, but once British sculptor Anthony Caro and his modernist friends did for the plinth, sculpture was on the floor and public art museums were faced with the problem of protecting it.

The trouble is barriers and podiums and stanchions and do-not-touch signs too often make a mockery of contemporary sculpture. Three particularly extreme examples are on view right now in New Zealand. One is Michael Parekowhai’s Atarangi which has been included in a Te Papa history show. You may never again in your lifetime see a large scale sculpture in a display case. Next there’s Peter Robinson’s My Marae, my Methven at the City Gallery. This Gallery with its claims to leadership in contemporary art simply shouldn’t have done it. Even Te Papa with no such claims does display this particular work on the ground, where it belongs. 

For the trifecta you need to be in Auckland to check out the bizarre display of a small bit of Fiona Connor’s installation Something Transparent (Please Go Round the Back). Sad for a start that the Auckland Art Gallery only has one of these doors (at least four or five are needed to give some idea of the original concept), but the one they do have still didn’t need protection by being slammed into the wall as though it were a giant matt. And then, having denied it three dimensionality they added a barrier. 

These three obviously side with the painter Ad Reinhardt who once famously quipped “Sculpture is something you bump into when you back up to look at a painting”.