Thursday 11 December 2008

2 days to go.....installing the exhibition

All the months of selecting work and researching and writing wall texts and labels are essential for an exhibition. However, it is only when works start coming into the gallery spaces and the curator puts the puzzle together that he or she knows if the concept has worked, particularly with such a varied show as The Enchanted Garden. Scott Everson, our designer, has been busy with the preparators, painting walls, (demolishing or moving them on occasion), and working out issues to do with lighting and projection.

After crates and travelling frames have been unloaded the works are put on sponge ‘softies’ randomly against any wall space available, and it is at this point that the curator can sometimes have a moment of panic! Then, gradually, as the works get grouped according to their themes, (and occasionally one gets rejected because it just can’t fit on the allocated wall) it starts to come together. The designer, preparators and curator work together as a team, patiently moving works left or right, experimenting with a particular hang until it feels just right. It’s exhausting, both physically and mentally, but extremely satisfying when it all comes together.

With this show, there are also a range of objects from private collectors, artists’ projects and the decorative arts collection at the Auckland Museum. All of these go in last, except for a delicate embroidered quilt, which has to be suspended high on a wall. Only then can the botanical prints that sit either side be laid out. Finally, there’s the knitted tea cosy, Meissen porcelain, the Maria Loboda vase of floral curses, dvds sculptures etc.

Two days to go, but now we know we’ve got a show!

The Enchanted Garden - opens 13 December 2008

image credit:

Peter Siddell
Tombstone Angel
acrylic on hardboard
Auckland Art Gallery, bequest of Miss L D Gilmour 1990

On Photography – Christmas ‘in camera’

Christmas as a thematic subject for artists is in only a few of the works in the Gallery’s collections. 13 works are tagged with Christmas in our catalogue. Two works on paper, by Richard Hamilton and Graham Smith, are fascinating as they reveal another perspective on this festive period.

Richard Hamilton’s 1971 screenprint I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas (above) has become an emblem of the artist’s career. The image is based on a promotional photographic still from the movie Holiday Inn that shows Bing Crosby walking across the hotel’s lobby. Using the brilliant tonal range of dye transfer as his starting point, Hamilton then reverses the original colours of the film still and then adds haphazard colour shifts, while further adding both collage and wash. Such a painterly response to photography is a characteristic of Hamilton’s work. The mood is one of strange humour.

Chris Killip and Graham Smith collaborated on their important documentary project titled Another Country (above). This is not the tourist view of England but a socially conscious insider’s response to poverty. The two artists have been described as ‘documentary mavericks’. Smith stopped making photographs three years after he made this image of a ‘working class family’ feeling the stress of seven days away from Christmas. As with all great social documentary photography, the human feeling is in preponderance.

Enjoy the festivities (hopefully not too black or stressful). I will return in the New Year with more On Photography.

Click here to read my other posts On Photography.

image credits:

Richard Hamilton born 1922 Great Britain
I’m dreaming of a black Christmas 1971
Screenprint on collotype, with collage and wash
750 x 1010mm
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1975

Graham Smith born 1947 Great Britain
One Week Before Christmas 1987
From the series: Another Country
Gelatin silver print
407 x 508mm
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1987

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Putting down roots in the gallery

Part of the upcoming exhibition - The Enchanted Garden, involves an artists project by Monique Redmond.

I was fortunate enough to hear from the curator, Mary Kisler, about Redmond's ambition for this project; to create a Pohutukawa Forest in the gallery. As i like to show some of the more unusual behind-the-scenes happenings at the gallery, the arrival of a forest of trees into the gallery seemed to fit.

Above is Monique Redmond who i like to think is checking out the height of the latest delivery of Pohutakawa trees with in trepidation.

How many preps does it take to make a forest?!

Looks like a rare sighting of the red headed prep lost amongst the forest. Apparently quite tame though.

......that's all I can reveal but if you want more, the exhibition opens on Saturday 13th December, come and see if they have flowered especially for the opening weekend. Fingers crossed!

Thursday 4 December 2008

On Photography - Florence Henri

The acquisition of modernist photographic portraits has never been a strategic focus for our international collection. Nevertheless, the Gallery acquired from a Sothebys auction during 1979 sale a remarkable self portrait photograph by Florence Henri. Although she was born in New York in 1893, Henri trained at the Bauhaus at Dessau as a Swiss citizen. She worked under the direct tuition of her teachers Lazlo Moholy-Nagy and Josef Albers. As an artist, Moholy- Nagy was fascinated with still life, distorted perspectives and the employment of multiple reflections. Such approaches to representation encouraged her to experiment with the medium of photography, which later worked set up her freelance career in Paris (1929 to 1963) as a successful portrait, fashion and advertising photographer.

Mirrors, glass and chromium-plated balls surfaced in her photographs during 1928. All of these images started out as pre-visioned still lives. Using her recently purchased Leica I, she prepared miniature tableaux in her studio for the sole purpose of a photographic record. These works contrast scale with complex reflections.

Henri’s Self Portrait of 1928 is rarely found in a period vintage print. The version that the Gallery acquired was printed later, which is obvious from the type of photographic paper she has used that certainly post-dates World War II. This may be the brilliant Agfa Brovira paper, which became available in France after 1946. This particular print has sustained chemical blemishes from what appear to be the artist’s own fingerprints which she has attempted to cover with a stippled spotting technique.

This famous Self Portrait has a stunning composition. The contrast of vertical and horizontal planes, the oddly sized mirror, the playful metallic reflections and the artist’s own tight pose - imitating a sculptural bust’s format - are all controlled by a tense and surprising design.

Click here to read more On Photography by Ron Brownson

Image credits (top to bottom):

Florence Henri (1893-1982) Switzerland
Self Portrait 1928 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
279 x 190mm
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, purchased 1979

Detail: Self Portrait 1928

The Enchanted Garden - Pulling it all together

While in many contemporary exhibitions, it is not usual practice to write extended labels for individual art works, for a large scale summer show that ranges across a wide theme they are an integral part of the experience.

I am an inveterate hoarder of magazine articles, second hand books, extracts off the web, etc so when I started to plan The Enchanted Garden exhibition I already had a lot of material to hand. However, without the assistance of the Gallery’s librarians, who are always happy to source material, it would not have been possible to cover the range of themes that I have. Even after writing 130 extended labels (some loans don’t have them) there is still so much more that could be said.

It is when you write the wall texts that the exhibition really comes together. Sometimes wall texts are really obvious and simple, but on other occasions narrowing down what you need to say, and tying different aspects of a show together, can get very challenging. Then everything has to be edited carefully for any errors or oversights – a daunting task that requires the assistance of willing readers.

While it is the registrar’s job to assist by liaising with artists and dealers when bringing works into the gallery, our designer has also been busy working out how to best display the range of works. Spaces change between exhibitions and for this show we have opened up the atrium, so the centre of the gallery is flooded with light.

Luckily most of the walls have remained in the positions created for the previous show (2008 Walters Prize), but the spaces are starting to look very different as new colours go on the walls. In this way we can tie particular works and themes together.

One of the preparators has constructed a circular table that is also an interactive for children, and a Temple of Vesta has been constructed as one of the four activities that we are offering to booked tours for people with visual impairment, to give added meaning to two prints which show the Temple in its natural surroundings. Much to do…

Click here to read more posts on The Enchanted Garden
Click here to visit The Enchanted Garden on the Auckland Art Gallery website

Monday 1 December 2008

December on the gallery development site

Well, it's the 2nd of December and the pace of 'deconstruction' has not slowed down! Now that all of the 'non-heritage' parts of the building have been removed - the middle section and the 'wedge' (as the gallery staff call it!) to the rear of the building - you can get a very clear understanding of how the buildings must have looked back in the late 1800's and early 1900's!

The Wellesley and Kitchener wings soar along Wellesley and Kitchener Street. Built at a time when the Park and trees were not as well-established as today - this building, which housed the council's municipal offices, a library and art gallery - must have dramatically changed the city landscape.

The now temporarily free-standing building adjacent to the park - the East Gallery - was built in 1916 to address the need for more gallery space. It is one of only two day lit galleries of its kind in New Zealand - where the light is admitted through a roof-based monitor and diffused through a lay-light. It's exciting to think we are going to be able to enjoy the gallery in a way that our forebears did when we re-open in 2011. Then, though we will enter at a slighter higher level than before, so that visitors do not need to negotiate stairs to get into this gallery.

By removing the 'wedge' which used to contain the goods lift and various back of house necessities, you can glimpse the outside of the original Wellesley wing on its northern side. It is easy to see the outlines of windows on this wall if you look at the images on the gallery's webcam. The intention is to make reference to this in the new building - in the south atrium which replaces the wedge at the south eastern end of the building.

At the moment work is focusing on ensuring that the heritage buildings are secure. Obviously in a project of this kind, you don't just pull down the bits of the building you don't want! The six buildings that comprised the art gallery as we knew it, were so closely packed, that enormous care has been taken when removing the more recent additions.

Once everything is satisfactorily secured, attention will turn to the next stage of the building project - which will be excavation to create a lower basement and a basement in the middle area between the two historic buildings. It reminds me a little of the Auckland Museum project. I remember being invited to a tour to look at the enormous hole that had been excavated! I can also remember the excavations for the Sky Tower - I was working in a building that overlooked the site. Our digging will probably seem insignificant in comparison! Still exciting though!

image credits (top to bottom):

Henry Winklemann
Date: 1903
Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries

Detail of webcam image