With an air of anticipation Paul and I visited the Degas to Dali exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery last weekend. We hadn’t visited the Art Gallery since its redevelopment and expansion in September last year and this was our attempt to be a cultural tourist in our own city.
In fact, that’s not the complete truth – I’ve only visited the Gallery twice previously. The first time was when I was a child and my family came up from Rotorua and Gisborne to see the Te Maori exhibition. The second time was to see the Goldie exhibition with my parents over 10 years ago.
So as a stranger who is unfamiliar with my surroundings and what should be expected, my experience evoked some intriguing senses.
1. A Sense of Space
I’m one of those people that like to know where I am in relation to everything else, so a floor plan that shows ‘You are here’ and the possibilities for exploration provides an overall ‘picture at a glance’ and a sense of space.
I didn’t get this sense of space at the Art Gallery. In fact I have no idea whether or not I saw all the viewing rooms and left feeling incomplete as a result. It would have been helpful to have floor plans near the lifts, stairwells and major thoroughfares.
I did however appreciate the brief introductions on the walls of each of the viewing rooms. These provided an outline of what the room contained and highlighted significant works of art. Imagine if libraries included alongside Dewey, a brief outline of what the shelves contained to give that sense of space.
2. A Sense of Curiosity
The Art Gallery surprised me with its use of volunteers. Someone greeted us as we entered, asked if we were here to see the Degas to Dali exhibition, and then showed us where to purchase tickets. Volunteers were in uniform making them easy to find and approach throughout the exhibition.
One volunteer approached me to ask my opinion of the artwork I was standing in front of and then shared a story about the inspiration the artist had for the piece of work we were looking at. After that encounter I felt brave enough to approach another volunteer and ask for help in identifying Te Kooti riding his white horse in this painting by Para Matchitt.
I wish library staff and volunteers would be more proactive in approaching patrons to share their knowledge and ask if assistance is required.
3. A Sense of Place
Tucked away in an upstairs walkway we found objects showcasing the history of the building and its most recent reincarnation. I was pleasantly impressed with the historical floor plans, the engineering feats of constructing the kauri canopy at the Gallery entrance, and a timelapse video showing the progression of the reconstruction over three years.
Libraries too have their own building history including refurbishments and expansions. Let’s identify our distinctive charactistics to create a permanent narrative that can shared be and appreciated as a place within the community.
4. A Sense of Familiarity
There were two pieces in the Degas to Dali exhibition that I particularly liked. But it wasn’t until after we had left the Gallery that I realised why I was drawn to them. They both provided a sense of familiarity. The first piece was Fish Circus by Eileen Agar.
I’d grown up by the sea and the child-like nature of this piece reminded me of rock pools and Witi Ihimaera’s short story, The Pupu Pool.
The second piece was the painting Exploding Raphaelesque Head by Salvador Dali.
The intricate detail is astonishing and some days it seems as if my head is exploding in a similar way. 🙂
Overall my visit to the Art Gallery was underwhelming. These were the Modern Masters. I had expected an enchanting journey through the lives and inspirations of such greatness. I certainly did get a visual treat but the rest of the journey was left for me to discover once I had left the Gallery. I wanted to be guided, delighted and informed beyond what was written beside each artwork. I wanted to know what others (experts) thought. And that didn’t happen. What if I’m not the only one who expects this. Imagine if libraries provided a high definition full surround sensory experience of this kind.