Monday 4 August 2008

The young and the restless

This weekend I went to see Joanna Langford's The Beautiful and the Damned at the Michael Hirschfeld Gallery at City Gallery Wellington.

The work was nice enough - not a patch on Langford's installation at the Sarjeant over summer, and probably not as good as works I've seen at Jonathan Smart and Enjoy. The clatter of cutlery and clang of voices from a busy brunch-time Nikau didn't help the work out, and nor did the fishy aroma (kedgeree? glue?).

Over all though, I walked out thinking - do we still need this space? The Hirschfeld's been operating a short-term exhibition space for Wellington artists for about the last 8 years. Whether it's the space (small, awkwardly divided) or the budget (at a guess, equally small) or the pace of the programme (4-6 weeks per show, a week or less changeover), the Gallery often seems given over to the whimsical, the modest, the obviously local. The last really balls-to-the-wall show I saw there was Dan du Bern's brazenly ambitious 'Protection'.

On average, over the past 5 years there's been one show per year in the main gallery spaces of a Wellington artist's work: Guy Ngan, Melvin Day, Jane Pountney, Peter Black, Elizabeth Thomson and the ex-Wellingtonian Tony Lane. The young and the restless are consigned to the Hirschfeld: two of the shows listed here were by artists very late in their careers, and one was a memorial exhibition.*

A redevelopment of City Gallery Wellington was due to be completed in June this year; it was to include the creation of space for the display of the Council art collection and other private collections; a bigger space for the Hirschfeld; and a new gallery for Māori and Pacific Island art. The most recent information (note PDF) I can find about the redevelopment indicates that it is on hold due to notification that the building requires earthquake strengthening. The Wellington Museums Trust SOI (note PDF) seems to indicate the redevelopment will take place in the next financial year.

So - is the Hirschfeld a problem? And is making it bigger a solution?

*Bearing in mind, of course, that the Hirschfeld is not the exclusive domain of the recent art school grad and also credit where credit's due, it's the home (dumping ground?) for most shows with a link to community events.

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