Two Alternatives in Auckland


The Closet Artists' Gallery, 520 Queen Street

Situated at the high-up end of Queen Street where second-hand shops, tabernacles and acupuncturists generate a feeling of unfulfilled questing, the Closet Artists' Gallery has taken over the ground floor of a rather beautiful old house, set away from the road. The kitchen is at the back, and director Ray Castle lives upstairs. 'It's like inviting people into my living room to experience what I have on the walls.'

It's certainly not a neutral environment, and it is one that would offend a purist of the 'White Cube' persuasion. The space is highly coloured for a start, and takes an impish delight in the visual distractions offered by fireplaces, window-frames, stairways. Castle believes that an art space should breathe and be a living environment. He makes the point that art is bought to be hung in people's homes, and not to exist in some dehumanised, clinical situation.

Ray Castle in the Closet Artists' Gallery with Philip Clairmont's Golden Oldies exhibition

He considers that, as an emotionally repressed society, we probably have a large number of 'closet artists', and that established artists also need to be able to step out of their usual roles and create work outside their public image. As an alternative gallery, and a venue for young and untried artists to gain confidence, Castle hopes to enliven the gallery scene generally, and even to influence the established galleries into becoming less stiff and set in their ways. He plans only about three shows ahead. 'I can't contemplate a situation where shows are booked a year or eighteen months ahead. I like there to be a spontaneous quality. I find after three shows are over three more have come along.'

Openings are held on a Sunday afternoon - another deliberate departure from the established gallery pattern. 'On a Sunday people are relaxed, it's more of a special event.' An idealist, Ray Castle finds the selling part difficult to come to terms with. 'It takes the feeling out of it a bit. I feel I'm in the role of a meat monger selling from the hook: He prefers to think of himself as a catalyst, and gains satisfaction from providing a stimulating environment for artists to get together, and for new art to get underway.

100m2 51 Federal Street

Frank Stark, director of 100m2, (one hundred metres squared), says the name deliberately does not include the word 'gallery' as the function of the space will vary from activity to activity. It is simply an arts venue, a place where a play can be staged, or an exhibition shown, where a dance group or a band can perform. From Scratch will probably use the space for a period of rehearsal; Richard von Sturmer's play The Green Lion was performed there; and exhibitions of drawing and other artworks have been shown. Stark's interest is in the establishing of the space: he hopes it will eventually be self-sustaining, a 'do-it-yourself' art space for hire.

View of 100m2 showing installation of Making Tracks by Judy Millar

The interior gives one the feeling of being inside a small white church. There is a sensation of containment as well as of release. Whitewashed brick walls incorporate recently bricked-in windows, and wide stable doors suggest an earlier function, for this building is nearly a hundred years old. Stark, with financial assistance from the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council, has spent the last four months partially gutting the interior, removing part of a mezzanine floor that was rotten, and using gallons of white paint. The uneven concrete floor remains a problem: some people have asked him to leave it as it is, for others it presents difficulties.

Both these new art spaces have emerged during the last three months. They are an interesting development in a period of economic austerity and point to a different evaluation of the purpose of art. In these arenas, if they survive, the status of art will not be ordained by the prices works realise but by the success the work has in involving, and identifying with, the aspirations of younger people.

Originally published in Art New Zealand 17 Spring 1980