11 January 2006

The tale of 3 little pigs

Provincial art galleries love this time of year. Visitor numbers swell massively as the province's expats return home to spend Christmas with their families, and while trying to evade cabin fever seek cultural refuge in the centre's art gallery. The gallery in turn generally comes to the party with an accessible and indicative exhibition programme that will equally engage both first time and 'educated' visitors, and leave a favourable impression with both camps. The 'summer blockbuster' exhibition, if you will.

I visited 3 provincial art galleries over summer, Te Manawa in Palmerston North, The Sergeant in Wanganui, and the Govett-Brewster in New Plymouth. They all had a very interesting take on the summer blockbuster, which reminded me of the whole 3 little pigs tale.

Te Manawa had built its summer-house out of straw - a graduation show from the local Maori arts course, and a touring photography show that was nice, but frankly intellectually light. In this face of summer blockbuster this house blew over.

The Govett-Brewster had built its summer-house out of wood. The Len Lye show, under the stewardship of Tyler Cann, remains a crowd favourite, particularly with the inclusion of a number of the kinetics, but the other two shows went to the other extreme, offering elaborate conceptual works on the whole - a digression from the easily digestible break/connect series of previous years. In this face of summer blockbuster this house also blew over.

The Seargeant chose to build its house from brick. The shows it has put together feature a solid and extensive range of work by almost every significant mid or late career artist working in NZ, and the thematic grouping offered an easily accessible entry point to both unfamiliar visitors, and critical theorists alike. Despite limited resources and marginal top-down support, the Seargeant emerges as the best summer blockbuster show, indeed able to withstand the oft harsh winds of public opinion.

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