intraspace: the review lounge

Monday, October 22, 2007

how to make an art gallery

tauranga has never had the reputation for being a cultural centre. in fact, in the past there has been a noticeable lack of cultural activity. the city had a reputation, even 15 years ago, of being kind of a giant retirement village. i remember reading in frank sargeson's autobiography 'once is enough' a comment about 1950s tauranga that was something like, "the lights of tauranga had nothing to offer me but tidy gardens and pink flamingoes". it was, and still is, a suburban paradise.

over the last ten years small nz towns and cities have been getting themselves more culture, actively seeking out artistic activity to add 'flavour' to their municipal identity. recently this phenomenon has been catching up with tauranga. even in the time i've been living here (nearly 5 years) things have noticeably changed.

one such project is the establishment of a tauranga art gallery. incredibly, tauranga has never had one. the only galleries have been commercial galleries selling the kind of art that matches the sofa and looks nice in your beach house.

predictably, the project (which received council funding) was viewed with suspicion by a good sized chunk of tauranga's pragmatic rate-paying population. but a committed team has seen the project through to completion. on saturday, the gallery opened to the public.

as the building (designed by mitchell & stout) went up, i have to say i wasn't overly impressed with the external architecture. to me it looked a bit more like a cinemaplex than an art gallery and i was, and still am, worried that it will date ungracefully. but walking through the big glass doors, i was immediately captured by the interior space.

it is compact, but uses the space very well with a high ceiling in the entry area. this is also the first display space you enter. the ceiling height allows for big art pieces and alleviates any feeling that the gallery is cramped by its small size. for the opening, this area houses two-storey high works by tauranga-born mark braunias.

the ground floor has a number of intimate display areas including a small concrete-walled room that obviously makes use of the existing building - i really liked that room. in these areas, the gallery has pieces from its collection on display. and quite a nice little collection it is - featuring work by the usual suspects (hotere, mccahon et al - nz works). the wall space has been well utilised but it doesn't feel cluttered.

overhead there are semi-opaque aqua coloured panels which are part of the floor of the upstairs mezzanine. the shadows of people walking on these makes intriguing shapes when you look up at them from below. these panels are an excellent architectural feature.

the mezzanine is a nice space and has two film screening rooms at the end. on display was photographic work, and in particular the best images from 'world press photo 2007'. having that as the opening exhibit was a stroke of genius by the gallery staff: photography is a very accessible art form; the images were very emotive and you couldn't help being affected by them; it brought international work into the gallery.

actually, it was great to see how many people had turned out to have a look at the gallery. the place was packed. and it seemed as if people who had just come for a nosey, went away genuinely impacted by what they had seen. as far as art is concerned, that is the definition of success.

this is how you make an art gallery in a place like tauranga. i'm immensely proud that it is now a feature of our city. i knew having a gallery here was a good idea but now i'm completely sold. if you ever visit tauranga, make sure you visit the gallery. it'll only take you about half an hour to look around - unless you want to stay longer.

gallery site here. view the gallery space here.

on the stereo: '15 step' by radiohead, from the album 'in rainbows'.

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