Wednesday 6 May 2009

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Two quite different art experiences over the weekend.

1. Thrill Me Every Day, a selection of works from Celia Dunlop's private collection, at the Dowse in Lower Hutt.

Celia died of cancer last year, and expressed the wish that her collection be shown and documented (a book is forthcoming). Thrill Me Every Day presents roughly half of the art, contemporary jewellery and ceramics that Celia collected over the past 40 years.

I was lucky enough to visit Celia a few years ago and get a tour of her house. It's really hard to replicate that feeling of a family of works that has grown organically through a house in a gallery setting, although there's an attempt with the display of a set of photos commissioned from Andrew Ross that recorded Celia's home in 2007. Reproducing rooms risks tweeness, like last year's reconstruction of Helen Hitching's gallery at the Museum of City and Sea, and often it's the stories that collectors weave around their collections while they conduct you around that form stronger ties than where things happen to be placed.

To me, the galleries (the three rather awkward small rooms on the left of the ground floor of the Dowse) felt overstuffed. Picking stronger themes and leaving more white space would have made for a more curatorial show, and shown some of the larger works in particular to better advantage. On the other hand, Celia personified abundance for me, and I thought she would have been really happy to see and hear the way people were drawing their own connections, recognising some things, oohing and aahing at others, and just not really getting the big Peter Robinson at all.

2. Billy Apple New York 1969-1973 at the Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University

You know, I never realised Apple made beautiful work (will he hate me for saying that?).

It might just have been that the documentary photographs brought out the formal quality of Apple's interventions with glass on footpaths and in his West 23rd Street space, but the works shown upstairs at the Adam were a bit of a revelation for me. The neon work in the long skinny downstairs gallery also skirts between grit and beauty, and made the most of that space, which I think works best when you view it from above.

The sparse hang was welcome after the busyness at the Dowse, but unfortunately it emphasised some epic technical fails: with two monitors down, and the projection in the Kirk Gallery not working, I felt like I only saw half an exhibition. The Adam needs to either provide more training to its gallery staff, or get more tech support.

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