Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Head home

Word from Australia is that a new head of art has been appointed at Te Papa. The new hire is New Zealander Charlotte Davy who has been with the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney on and off for about 14 years, most recently as Head of Exhibitions. Again it is a rehire of a former staff member, Davy was Te Papa’s Collections manager from 2001 to 2003. Her predecessor as Head of Art, Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, was an historian and curator whereas Davy is firmly on the management side. She rose through the ranks as a registrar and collection manager but also has considerable experience with managing and producing exhibitions.

This background could fit in neatly with Te Papa’s current crush on developing touring exhibitions that could generate cash. The Economist reckons there are about 3,500 museums in China alone and that 100 new ones are built there each year. If Te Papa does become an exhibition maker and broker for content-hungry Asia, it will certainly need someone with a high level of skill in negotiation, process and policy. And that 'someone' would also need solid networks in North America and Europe to access content. 

Heading up Te Papa’s art division isn’t very taxing at present. There are no big NZ exhibitions on the slate (the last was Rita Angus in 2008) and no touring shows planned, this year anyway. A Head of Art hard into management (sounds weird but there it is) could fit better with Te Papa than a curatorial heavyweight.

Te Papa is not an easy place to be an advocate of the visual arts. Even Jonathan Mane-Wheoki who had a credibility overload never really managed to get much traction; a scrappy new gallery space cobbled out of the old library (the second time the art section has been shoved into space designed for books) and ongoing over-promoted thematic rearrangements of the permanent collection thinly disguised as curatorial exhibitions. Looking at her past achievements Charlotte Davy is unlikely to find much to interest her in that sort of curatorial housekeeping so all eyes on what projects she picks up.