Art to choosing art explained

Dunedin Public Art Gallery director Cam McCracken in the heart of the gallery  collection...
Dunedin Public Art Gallery director Cam McCracken in the heart of the gallery collection yesterday. Photo by Linda Robertson.

The art to picking art was explained at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery yesterday.

Playwright Roger Hall recently questioned the use of exhibition space in the gallery when he returned to Dunedin for the inaugural Writers and Readers Festival.

''What I saw mostly was blank wall space. For every painting on display, there must be about 10 times the area of empty walls,'' Mr Hall said.

''The public comes to see paintings, not wall space. They are being short-changed.''

However, there was more to an exhibition than met the eye, gallery director Cam McCracken said yesterday.

''There are more than 8000 pieces in the collection and we might show, maybe 5%, of the collection in a year,'' he said.

''We're a community living room, basically. Some people are lucky enough to live with art in their homes, but most people aren't, and that's where we come in. We have a lot of exhibition space to fill and we try for variety, as well. I like to think that, if you came in a family group, there would be something for everyone. Everybody would find a corner that they'd enjoy.''

The most popular works in the gallery collection are La Débâcle, by Claude Monet, Preparations for the Market, Quimperlé, Brittany, by Stanhope Alexander Forbes, and Spes or Hope, by Sir Edward Burne-Jones.

''We don't programme to a formula. We have the collection and a kpi [key performance indicator] as a council facility to dedicate a minimum of 40% of the gallery space to exhibitions, on an annual basis.

''We will well and truly satisfy that this year.''

The gallery was on track to record its highest number of annual visitors.

''No matter what we do, we're going to get people who want to see what they want to see. People develop a relationship with the collection and some people think that their taste is what everyone wants to see. But that's not the case,'' Mr McCracken said.

''You can't show any painting permanently, because the condition would deteriorate, and we want to keep the important works in the collection forever. So we need to know how long something's been out and how much light it's been exposed to and when to give it a rest.

''Oils are more robust, while works on paper are terribly susceptible to deterioration, so we have to measure them very carefully. You can only put about 50 lux on paper works, which is not much. They're out for six months, maximum, and then put back in storage for a 12 to 18-month period.''

The gallery also had a duty to broaden artistic horizons, he said.

''We're mindful that we want to introduce people to new work and new ideas, which is why we commission a lot of new work. We have a commitment to our local art community. We're also interested in what's going on around New Zealand and bringing that to Dunedin.

''We want to push people a bit, too. A programme that's benign and gentle and doesn't ask questions ... that's not what we want to do. If there wasn't a little bit of edginess, we wouldn't be doing our job.''

The gallery always welcomed feedback on exhibitions, Mr McCracken said.

''We love to know what people think. For every comment we get that's negative, we get 10 that are positive.''

- nigel.benson@odt.co.nz

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