Tuesday, November 25, 2008
  Artspace turns 21
Twenty one years ago, Auckland was in a ferment, with many industrial buildings in the central city waiting for demolition, the sharemarket crashing and the property market about to follow. The art market - such as it was - was slowing and artists, especially those doing more edgy work, weren't feeling much love from Auckland Art Gallery.

There was a mood afoot for an artist-run space where new ideas of sculpture and performance could be tried out, bold experiments conducted, young artists exposed before they were picked up by dealer galleries.

There had been a similar attempt at an artists' room earlier in the decade, Frank Stark's 100 Metres Squared gallery, and a city council-administered work scheme, Artworks, had allowed younger artists to think about different ways of producing and presenting work.

"When we started there were few opportunities for emerging artists, curators and writers," says Mary Louise Browne, a sculptor and performance artist and Artspace's first director. "We developed lots of space," she says, crediting people like Sandy Morrison and then-mayor Cath Tizard for support in finding venues.


The first space was the George Fraser Gallery in Albert Park.

"The very first show we did was Di Ffrench and Fiona Pardington, about the body. Di, who also did performance art, had these big colour cibachromes and dye works. Fiona had pictures of Neil and Joe [her brother and partner] in masks.

"We had Janet Frame upstairs as the artist in residence. She came down every day to check it out. She responded really well to it," Browne says.

A month later, Artspace opened a second gallery in a large white-painted brick building in Federal St which was awaiting the bulldozers for what eventually became the Sky City Casino. "We could do things there without pressure. It was very industrial, and there were a lot of performances and films made there after hours."

Browne says Artspace was definitely a reaction to the direction Auckland Art Gallery was taking, with an emphasis on quality high-end imported historical shows of artists like Claude Monet. When 101 Federal St was finally demolished, a lot of art went with it. For the last show, artists were invited to do works directly on the walls.

That was also a feature of the next venue at Quay St, where a Julian Dashper piece, which consisted of the word DRIVE painted from floor to ceiling on the wall, led to challenges from visitors that the space was being wasted.

"We tended to have an opening every two weeks alternating between the George Fraser and the other venue, so things kept moving. A lot needed to be looked at and we needed to be light on our feet because the space could be taken away at any time," Browne says.

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