One of the books I remember vividly from studying NZ lit at Canterbury University in the early 1990s is the Murray Edmond and Mary Paul-edited anthology The New Poets of the 80s.
I also remember the last line of their introduction, in which they relate how, after trying out many ways of organising the poets in their book, they 'fell back on the traditional Dada randomness of the alphabet as the happiest chance.'
The Gallery's librarian Tim Jones recently turned up a classic case of the alphabetical method applied to an exhibition all the way back in 1949, although the person responsible, W.S. Baverstock, the honorary curator and later director of the Robert McDougall Art Gallery, was definitely no Dadaist.
In the first letter here, a visitor complains about Baverstock's choice to hang prints and drawings from the Wakefield Collection in alphabetical order.
Baverstock's reply manages to get straight to the point while somehow missing it. The works are in alphabetical order, he insists – what could be more logical?
A reply from the visitor makes it clear there might be other logics worth bearing in mind when you're hanging works of visual art – like, well, visual logic.
No reply to that, and I'd have to score it a victory to the visitor.
Still, with our collection packed away and unlikely to be put back on show for many months, it's hard not to feel envious of anyone in a position to hang paintings on public gallery walls in Christchurch – alphabetically ordered or not.