Tuesday, August 30, 2016

On reflection

Sometime during the day, if you have a chance, spare a thought for the staff of the Govett Brewster Art Gallery and Len Lye Centre. Now the architectural community has finished congratulating itself, it’s becoming clear that what's been left is one of the most difficult spaces in the country to exhibit art in.

Unsurprisingly, the things that have so excited the architectural gatekeepers are the very things that make it difficult. Start with the mega statement of the cathedral-like entry with its columns and sloping floor. Once the wow factor has worn off, it’s a very large, very empty, very grey space. It does have potential of course and especially for commissioned projects by artists. Andrew Beck, by all accounts, made a great job of it in the last round, but there’s a limit to how often you can find keen young artists willing to make a splash on limited resources.

When you do get to the top of the grand hall to Len Lye’s large scale kinetic works, strangely given the hype in the planning stage, it's too small! The new Fountain IV all but brushes the roof and looks surprisingly cramped.

At the base of the long ramp of course is the far from obvious entrance to the Govett-Brewster  Art Gallery. The two large lower galleries are no more. As you move through it you can't help wondering how architects could leave this awkward space behind them as a piece of serious art gallery design. As an introduction to the gallery it's a tough call for any exhibition designer.

The staff at least has got a pleasant sunny cafe where they can dream about putting the place to rights. They certainly must be nervous at the thought of audience numbers dropping if a threatened admission charge comes into play next year. The New Plymouth City Council has somehow convinced itself and its public that the bright shiny facade (a magnet for selfies) will continue to make its newest facility a destination attraction. But the reality is that the selfie takers don’t get added into the all-important visitor numbers, for that you have to go inside. And look at the art.