Pearl of curatorship

Grace Ryder (right) hands over the reins of the Blue Oyster Art Project Space to Hope Wilson earlier this month. Photos: Gregor Richardson
Grace Ryder (right) hands over the reins of the Blue Oyster Art Project Space to Hope Wilson earlier this month. Photos: Gregor Richardson
Dunedin’s Blue Oyster Art Project Space is an incubator for emerging artists, writers and curators as well as providing great opportunities for its directors. Rebecca Fox talks to the immediate past and present directors.

Being given the opportunity to spend three years testing their own ideas and developing their skills is a gift for those selected to run Dunedin’s Blue Oyster Art Project Space.

Every three years, the Blue Oyster trust appoints a new director to present its annual programme of exhibitions, workshops, publishing, events and its annual publication.

For the past three years Grace Ryder has been directing the programme, an opportunity she says she has loved.

‘‘I entered the job an emerging curator and I’m now no longer an emerging one.’’

The experience she gained on the job at Blue Oyster has secured her a curator’s job at Wellington’s prestigious Dowse Gallery.

‘‘A dream job really. Being given so much autonomy, respect and trust which really allows you to push forward and puts you ahead for those incredible jobs.

‘‘It’s a launchpad.’’

Grace Ryder with Bronte Perry’s Rupua No5, 2019 at Blue Oyster Project Space.
Grace Ryder with Bronte Perry’s Rupua No5, 2019 at Blue Oyster Project Space.
Before she headed north to start her new job, Ryder recently spent some time reflecting on the past three years.

‘‘To have three years to test your own ideas and see how a space should operate, it has been incredible.’’

The position is ‘‘all encompassing’’ with directors having many administrative tasks as well as nurturing artists and curating.

‘‘They’re the accounts person, they do marketing, they’re the cleaner, they’re the curator. It gives you such a wonderful set of skills.’’

Ryder has especially enjoyed working on the strategic and long-term plans for the gallery which was amplified by the gallery’s 20th anniversary last year.

‘‘There’s been a lot of reflection and looking forward. Speaking to the founder, Steve Carr, who is adamant the place would be a significant moment for everybody involved and that it would continue to grow and change to become the well orchestrated institution it has become.’’

As director not only do they provide mentorship but they also facilitate it.

‘‘Supporting the community, managing volunteers and supporting young and emerging artists is all part of it.’’

Developing and reinforcing links with similar galleries in other parts of the country is also important.

‘‘You want to foster those relationships and a sustainable network is valuable in lots of different ways.’’

One of the projects she is particularly proud of is the programme which in the past 18 months has had a really valuable ‘‘narrative and conversation’’ weaved through it which people have responded to really well.

Seeing some of the exhibitions go on to larger institutions is also a ‘‘real pleasure’’.

‘‘Seeing the artists get recognition for the work done with us is huge.’’

Similarly, the work done behind the scenes on the gallery’s Maori engagement strategy has been an achievement.

‘‘I’m very proud of the relationship Blue Oyster has established with manawhenua as well as the funding and financial health of the space. It means we can pay artists closer to what their work and time is worth.’’

She admits letting go of the position is not easy.

‘‘I moved here for this job and my whole life in Dunedin has been because of Blue Oyster and many of my friends are from Blue Oyster.

‘‘It’s closing the chapter on a big part of a period growth in my life.’’

All of these achievements and those of directors prior to Ryder made taking up the role daunting but exciting for Hope Wilson, the new director.

Wilson, who comes from Gore and studied art history and English at the University of Otago, comes to the job from time working at the Eastern Southland Art Gallery.

‘‘I love Dunedin. I’m excited to be here.’’

She has previously worked in Christchurch’s version of Blue Oyster, The Physics Room before last year heading to Venice for a six-week stint as one of Creative New Zealand’s pavilion attendants for Dane Mitchell’s ‘‘Post hoc’’ exhibition for the Biennale Arte 2019.

‘‘It was a fantastic opportunity and enabled me to become more familiar with international contemporary art. It really gave you an appreciation of what is going on in the arts world.’’

Wilson is slowly settling in to her new role and was thankful for a great handover from Ryder.

‘‘She did such a great job securing funding, the gallery is in such a good position.’’

She has welcomed the gallery’s summer resident Owen Connor, who will be staying at the Caselberg Trust cottage during his time in Dunedin.

Later this year, she will put a call out for applications from artists keen to exhibit.

‘‘I’ll be working with the trust on the next stage for the gallery which is exciting.

‘‘It’s such a privilege to be working here and to continue the work of past directors.’’

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