Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Starkwhite comes to Wellington

The relationship between dealer galleries and public art museums has changed a lot. There was a time when the museums stood on their ethics and kept the dealers at arm's length in case their curatorial independence was compromised. That stand feels rather quaint now with big international dealers like Gagosian and Hauser & Wirth having a huge impact on what goes into (or possibly more importantly what’s not made available for) public museum shows, biennales and commissions. These galleries fund exhibitions and publications on a lavish scale and of course present substantial exhibitions of their own. The boundaries are well and truly blurred and the results not always to the benefit of museum independence. When visiting public museums shows today studying the labels to see who claims who and who's credited for what and who gets thanked is simply another part of the filtering process.

If you visited the current suite of exhibitions at the City Gallery in Wellington you'd think you'd hit the nexus of the public museum/dealer relationship. The City Gallery's spaces are all but filled on both floors with three solo exhibitions by artists (and yes in the City Gallery tradition they're all male) who show at a single Auckland dealer gallery - Starkwhite. Then stir in some personal history. The City Gallery’s Senior curator Robert Leonard was Starkwhite director John McCormack's curator at the Govett-Brewster and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. And what about the transparency issue? The Starkwhite connection is credited on two of the exhibitions (Martin Basher and Grant Stevens) at the City Gallery but is nowhere to be seen in the biggest exhibition where the three ground floor galleries are filled with Seung Yul Oh’s work. And this in an institution that raised eyebrows in the past over the multiple appearances and support of artists from the Sydney-based dealer Roslyn Oxley.

But as it happens it turns out the Starkwhiteathon is actually a mixture of loose programming and poor timing: the Seung Yul Oh show was developed in conjunction with the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and had no association with Starkwhite, Leonard has been a long-term supporter of Grant Stevens (he introduced the artist to Starkwhite way back) and the Martin Basher exhibition was already on the books.

So not exhibition programming's finest hour but a King-hit for Starkwhite

Image: Seung Yul Oh (detail)