Brought to Light

Finally, it's finished! It is now four months since we closed the doors on the previous incarnation of Christchurch Art Gallery's collection exhibition, and the intervening period has been a very busy time for all our staff. When Christchurch Art Gallery opened in 2003, the plan, reiterated in the Paradigm Shift document of 2006, was to refresh the hang of the collection galleries after five years. Since then the display has of course not remained entirely static, and visitors will have noticed regular changes as new works entered the collection, light-sensitive works were changed and small focus exhibitions created. But Brought to Light: A New View of the Collection is something altogether more-a refreshment of our entire collection display (not just what, but why) and a re-evaluation of the physical space of the galleries themselves.

It was with mounting excitement that we watched the construction of the new spaces. We've made the process public, sharing images and personal responses from the staff involved on our Brought to Light blog. Gone are the series of staggered walls that previously determined the visitor's journey through the collection; in their place are a series of spaces designed to encourage a sense of flow, drama and anticipation. We've pored over the diagrams and the scale models, but it's not until you stand in the middle of the huge new central arcade that you begin to truly appreciate the new space.

Installation view: Brought To Light December 2009

Installation view: Brought To Light December 2009

However, the structural changes are only part of the story; it's on the gallery walls, and indeed floors, that things really start to get interesting. Well before the first painting came down in July, the curators were already re-imagining the collection. What stories do we want to tell, and how do we want to tell them? In many ways Brought to Light is, with the exception of all the label writing and logistical problems it generates, a curator's dream-start from scratch and create a bespoke gallery.

And this new gallery is designed around conversations. At its heart is the constant conversation, alluded to in the exhibition's title, between light and dark that characterises any large collection-which works will be brought forth into the light of the public eye, and which will rest in the comparative dark of the collection storerooms, plan chests and Solander boxes? With over 6,000 works in the collection, this presents hard choices, but also exciting opportunities. Also important are the conversations between contemporary and historical art, and between Māori and Pākehā art, carried out across the spine of the central arcade and through the series of themed rooms that lead off it. This more thematic model is a big leap forward from the previous, linear approach. As senior curator Justin Paton says: ‘Stretching from the historical spaces at one end to the contemporary spaces at the other, this arcade is a palpable expression of our belief that art's past and its present should be in live conversation with each other.'

The doors are open again, and Brought to Light is open to visitors. This is your invitation to come in and explore. Many of the collection stalwarts are still on display, but we hope that within this show you'll also find new favourites, and see the collection in a whole new light.

Appeared in

9 June 2010

Justin Paton

Senior curator

Justin Paton Justin Paton is head of international art at the Art Gallery of NSW. He was senior curator at the Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū from 2007 until 2013 and is widely published as an art critic.