Ruth Buchanan <em>The scene in which I find myself / Or, where does my body belong</em> 2019, installation view Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. Photo Sam Hartnett

Ruth Buchanan The scene in which I find myself / Or, where does my body belong 2019, installation view Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. Photo Sam Hartnett

Rules and revelations: The Govett-Brewster’s gutsy 50th birthday rehang

The Spinoff

17 Dec 2019

To celebrate the 50th birthday of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth, Walters Prize-winning artist Ruth Buchanan has rehung their collection, bringing previously unseen works and skeletons out of the closet. Her new exhibition The scene in which I find myself/Or, where does my body belong examines the politics of a public art collection: Who’s in it? Who’s missing? Jim and Mary Barr find out.


When it comes to museums and art museums in particular, the collection is the iceberg in the room. Most of it is under the surface, rarely revealed, and like any good iceberg, it’s slippery. Curators dip into it from time to time, conservators tend it behind the scenes and directors tiptoe around controversy if there is ever a whisper of culling items. With collections, the pressure is always on for more storage, more conservation, more crates, more security. Is it preservation or hoarding? As they go on accumulating, collections start to pose more questions than they give answers.

The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth has recently appointed their new director. This time it’s a duo (Aileen Burns and Johan Lundh) who are not from around here and find themselves with a 50th anniversary to celebrate. Fifty years of exhibitions, commissions, building and renovations, controversies and, of course, acquisitions through purchases and gifts. The gallery’s collection now has around 1000 items. So, what could be said about this 50-year accumulation? Or rather, what does the accumulation have to say for itself? There have been collection shows at the G-B/LLC before with titles like Out from the basement, Critical moments from the Govett-Brewster collections and Open storage. But a 50th anniversary, that’s something special.

 

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