On the Adam Art Gallery website, Tim Beaglehole (academic and former Chancellor of Victoria University) talks about art as a way of seeing the world. I’ve long thought about art in this way—as a means of accessing different viewpoints and realities. There’s always something new to discover and entering into that hallowed space always feels like a relief from the fast-paced and (let’s be honest) sometimes humdrum nature of everyday life. This is especially true of contemporary art, which is hugely diverse. As Stephen Cleland (newly appointed curator at the Adam) states, “what is particularly exciting about contemporary art is that it encompasses an increasingly broad scope of materials. One can be working in video, performance, painting or photography or various other media and still be working within this framework of ideas and discussion around culture.”
Given this, we’re really lucky at Vic to have the Adam—a gallery that has been purpose-built for the University and which delivers an impressive array of contemporary work, in a really stunning space. However, although students may be aware of its existence, I’m not sure they’re as fully conscious as they could be of what it has to offer. For instance, the Adam has “a large public program built around the exhibitions which have free events, people conversing about art, openings and drinks.” In this vein, one of Stephen’s aims is to better connect with the staff and student body, as well as the wider public. While the Adam “is in a position where we want to acknowledge depth, because that’s something we value within our field, we are also in a role where we’re trying to open up contemporary art… people should feel like they’re welcomed when they come to the Adam, that there’ll be information on hand and it won’t be patronising or pretentious.”
The Adam manages the Victoria University art collection, which is exhibited primarily around campus and sometimes in the gallery. However, exhibitions at the Adam primarily focus on contemporary and temporary work, often with an inter-disciplinary focus. For example the latest show, entitled Drawing Is/Not Building, “involves architects working with an idea of drawing.” This is part of Stephen’s vision for the future of the Adam—that the exhibition program will increasingly “draw in existing knowledge on campus into discussions around the shows with the hope that it opens up our contemporary art program to the larger audience that we occupy.” The temporary nature of the work exhibited—in that much of it is not owned by the Adam—is also a part of this dynamic. As Stephen states, “the freedom of a contemporary art gallery like the Adam… is you can work directly with artists to deliver a more responsive program. You can operate in quite a fleet-footed manner and deliver projects that are more exciting than slower moving, larger organisations.” And I think you do really get a sense of this from frequenting the Adam—the shows feel spontaneous, surprising and always unique.
Students are also able to get involved—the Adam relies heavily on volunteers to babysit the gallery and help with events. A blog associated with the Adam is also going to be starting soon, giving students the opportunity to write about shows and events. Stephen’s advice for those aspiring to work in the art world is to “get involved in whatever capacity you can… I ran [Window, a contemporary art space at Auckland University] for pretty much no income for a number of years but I was always amazed by the generosity of the community to respond to invitations and take up projects. And then each one of those projects carried a lot of questions. One of the most challenging things for young curators in particular is developing a range of discussion points, for instance being able to be as conversant with a young painter as you are with a new photographer or performance artist, because each one of those practices involves not only a shift in media but an entirely different worldview of concerns so that’s one of the bigger challenges I think. But it’s an exciting one.”
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The current shows, DrawingIs/Not Building and Living Cities 2011, are on until the 28 June. After that, the Adam will hopefully be showing some McCahons, contemporary photography by Andrew Beck and an installation by David Claerbout, where the floor of the space will be transformed into a mirror. Next time you feel like a bit of down time from studying, I highly recommend checking out the exhibitions or coming to one of the events. This is our gallery after all, and it’s so easy—and so good!