Not all doom and gloom

Kerry Ann Lee, Big City Rising, 2013, digital lambda print in antique Chinese frame, 460 mm diameter
Kerry Ann Lee, Electric Bayou, 2013, digital lambda print in antique Chinese frame, 460 mm diameter
Kate Woods, Bonfire, 2013, c-type print on archival rag paper, image size 590 x 1000 mm
Kate Woods, Plastic bag happenings, 2013 c-type print on archival rag paper, image size 600 x 1000 mm
Mark Amery writes of the continued rude health of the Wellington private gallery scene.

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By Mark Amery

To borrow from Mark Twain, reports of the death of the dealer gallery are greatly exaggerated.

Yes, already this year Wellington has seen two exhibition spaces close. Mark Hutchins has shut his gallery after nine strong years and, as he celebrates 20, Hamish McKay is removing the word gallery from his professional moniker as an art dealer.

To be sure the art business is changing and diversifying. The expansion of the internet and the rise of art fairs and big international public art events are just some of the more obvious shifts. The ways artists show their work has expanded: from an increase in public exhibition spaces, to artist-run spaces and alternative private models, like 30 Upstairs in Courtenay Place.

Just because there isn’t a price in the accompanying catalogue or book doesn’t mean a work isn’t purchasable from a dealer in the shadows. For the established likes of McKay there are an increasing number of different platforms for his artists, and they still require his negotiation skills.

Yet in spite of the doom and gloom mutterings that accompany the downward market turn of a recession, not only are there more artists and exhibition spaces in Wellington, there are also no fewer dealer galleries.

This may yet change. But over my 17 years in Wellington for every gallery that has closed, another has always, eventually opened. Good artists always inspire people to represent them. Already this year former Hamish McKay assistant Carey Young has opened a gallery space in Mount Victoria. Suitably it’s titled The Young.

While dealers like McKay, Peter McLeavey, Jenny Nelligan of Bowen and Marcia Page of Page Blackie have decades under their belts, many others last a respectable five to ten years, make a significant mark and then bow out for a saner career elsewhere.

Looking over the 25-year span of works by the late Gordon Crook hanging at Page Blackie Gallery, I mused on the galleries I had seen his work in before. All excellent, none still around: the Brooker, Brian Queenin Gallery, Idiom Studio (whose quiet but dynamic co-founder Dave Kent passed away a fortnight ago) and, most recently, Mary Newton Gallery. Each took a chance, made a stand, and enriched the city.

Constancy is not something that marks out Gordon Crook’s work. It is ever-changing, never settling within the frame. Crook presents an ongoing conversation. I like the gardener analogy Jim and Mary Barr use in the show’s accompanying catalogue. This exhibition is a wild, lush garden of creatures and flowers in various states of growth, often in tension with each other. Like the comings and goings of the local gallery scene, I am reminded of the ecosystem of a pond.

The gallery’s statement that this is the first survey of Crook’s work for twenty years is a bit rich given its restricted to work available for sale, and that’s reflected in the variable success of the work. Yet the exhibition’s sense of life is terrific, with a sprinkling of great work.

Up the road Bartley and Company (five years old), continues to do a great public service in giving strong emerging artists exhibition alongside the more established. While the slide and video presentations that accompany it felt inconsequential, Kerry Ann Lee’s Asian urban growth inspired collage work continues to develop in strength, and is a smart fit with the sculptural collage events Kate Woods stages in photographs of city buildings sites, drawn from recent time in Beijing.

A poem of Lee’s on the wall expresses something of what I think the dealer gallery offers our city:  “we share this city with strangers, and learn about it from trusted sources, and we know what it looks like from crappy postcards.” We deserve artistic visions and experiences that are better and closer than postcards from strangers.

  • Hyperspace, Bartley and Company, until 25 May
  • Biography of the Mind, Gordon Crook, until 1 June

MUST SEE

Politicians aren’t known for their subtle noises, so all the more refreshingly strange is to pass through security at Bowen House to see and hear a selection of minimalist sound installations by past and present students of the NZ School of Music. 

  • Low Noise: An Exhibition of Sound Installations, until 14 June, Bowen House

Written by

Mark Amery

21 May 2013

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media.

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