Sunday 27 September 2009

Un-named, 2009

Yesterday I went to check out Wall Works at the Adam Art Gallery - site-specific works by 8 artists, commissioned to mark the 10th anniversary of the gallery's opening.

Earlier in the day I'd had a really surprising visit to the Dowse (more on that later) and while I enjoyed some of the works - Jeena Shin's in particular - I think my capacity for art wonder had been used up for the day. You can read John Hurrell's review for more about the show, and David Cauchi's rather entertaining accounts of the development of bathroom work to get a feel for the "art camp" experience.

Instead, I got rather hung up on one detail of the exhibition installation. For the second time in the row (Laura Preston's previous show was the same, I think), there was no signage to tell you who each work was by. I can understand the desire not to put labels up next to wall works - it would have been quite incongruous, and even ugly. But surely there are some inventive ways to get around this, like vinyl signage on the floor?

If you picked up the understated little flyer from the desk, you did get details about each artist and their work, with the name of the space they were working in. However, this relies on you checking whether you're in the Congreve foyer or the lower Chartwell gallery to make sure you correctly match artist to work - or doing this retrospectively, if you pick up the flyer on the way out.

It's fine if you're pretty familiar with contemporary New Zealand art, and can make a good stab at it for yourself. But I do wonder how this makes less regular gallery visitors feel.


David Cauchi said...

I realise you are not advocating festooning the artworks with labels aimed at those with a reading age of 10, as in that Mickey Mouse museum on the waterfront, but you do seem to want the gallery visitor to be spoonfed like a spoilt child.

I thought it refreshing for the interested visitor to be expected to go to the hurculean effort of asking the gallery attendant for directions if they need to.

But then, when I was working up there, I noticed that the attendants tended to approach visitors to give a quick overview of what's what. Oh well.

Courtney Johnston said...

Thanks David.

I didn't get much personal treatment from the gallery attendant (maybe I look scary? or like I know what I'm doing?) It's tough balancing the needs of different visitors - the ones who want very little interpretative material, and the ones who want lots. I just think in these cases the Adam is a bit too minimal for people who aren't experienced or confident gallery goers.

David Cauchi said...

Probably the latter, I'd say. After posting this comment, it occurred to me that I should've mentioned that the people approached seemed to be the more hesitant, confused-looking ones.

It also occurred to me that putting a name to a work isn't really that important, especially for a casual visitor. Whatever happened to letting the work speak for itself?

Just because some people want lots of interpretative material, should they necessarily get it?

I really do think that there tends to be far too much interpretative material in galleries, and that the Adam doing something different from most other galleries is a good rather than a bad thing.

Diversity is strength! Down with the leisure shopping, one size fits all approach to art!

And enjoy your holiday!