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July 25, 2011 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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Behind Closed Doors

4th June – 18th December 2011

This long running exhibit at the Adam Art Gallery brings a host of canvas covering visitors to our humble, yet slightly demolished, campus to strut their stuff in the public eye. The underlying theme of the exhibit is a desire to reveal to the viewing public of Wellington the art of their city which is usually hidden away in the homes of private collectors. This curatorial directive means that the exhibition is inherently interesting on purely aesthetic basis and with a view towards understanding this little city of ours better.

This exhibit is beautifully arranged with each work holding its own space well ensuring that there are no real weak spots obvious as you continue through the gallery. The placement of works containing a sense of clarity, such as Colin McCahon’s Muriwai, at the end of long corridors adds a sense of spaciousness and simplicity to by allowing the viewer to both assess the work and relax from not being bombarded by too much information at once. This brings us to another aspect of the show, it is rather crowded. Each work in the exhibit has an individual narrative of significant importance due to its place in our young yet vibrant artistic tradition. Having all these works placed together under the banner of having come from private collections can blur their individual beauty by placing them in a context that is unusual for them.

Having said this, the show does work, and it works because the extent of curatorial influence used walks a very fine line. In creating a show where the premise is where the works are drawn from, over analysing this factor can lead to a show which is intensely boring and drones on incessantly. Conversely, if a curator simply places the works as individual pieces with no sense of continuity then you are left with a staggering sense of confusion and tear inducing bewilderment. Finding the perfect medium, the little bear’s bowl of porridge, in terms of presenting an exhibit like this may seem fiendishly difficult but it has been well executed at the Adam where three separate themes are used to present the scintillating and diverse art that has erupted from Wellington collections. One segment of the gallery organises its progeny in terms of artist, presenting sketches of the weird and wonderful working lives of McCahon and Woolaston, while the staircase sides are organised according to the era in which they were produced. At the base of the eclectic building that is the Adam lies a section dedicated to the narratives that exist between abstraction and figuration in 20th century New Zealand art. By placing the works inside loose frameworks this exhibit allows the viewer freedom to take what they want from each piece without being completely daunted by the sheer scale of items on offer. In this regard Behind Closed Doors is truly excellent.

However after several visits to this exhibit I am left feeling a little underwhelmed. The real attraction of this exhibit for me was the picture it is attempting to paint of the makeup of the local artistic scene, in terms of production and collection, and by extension depict the city of Wellington itself in all its quirky diversity. Unfortunately it stops well short of the mark in this regard. The pieces of art have been disconnected from their collections and have no details of who they belong to or what their road has been on their journey to the whitewashed walls of the Adam. This is presumably an adverse effect of the desire to protect the privacy of those generous enough to place their works in the public eye for a short time, but the exhibit feels like it has missed an opportunity in regards to showcasing how art collection works in this relatively tiny community.

With a show carrying as many connotations as this one it can be easy to miss how stunningly beautiful some of the works are. Many of them have never been in a public gallery before and some will most likely not return to one. This showcase of New Zealand art is unique in this regard and therefore thoroughly worth strolling into between lectures or as a break from Library based procrastination, despite the sometimes bewildering and frustrating consequences of its premise.

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