Adrienne Martyn: Shift - A Personal Connection

In October 2016, I returned to work from maternity leave. My child was four and a half months old and while I left my role as Assistant Manager of Anderson Park Art Gallery, I returned as Manager/Curator of the Invercargill Public Art Gallery. In my absence, the gallery had undergone a massive reevaluation of its core purpose and my previous manager/mentor/in-house barista, Stephen Davies, had resigned. To say it was a shock was putting it lightly. I went from naps and nappies, to meetings and making important decisions – all while trying to survive on broken sleep. Looking back, it was a crazy time.

In the midst of the craze, Adrienne Martyn, a renowned photographer, contacted me about undertaking a photography project at Anderson House. She had been in contact with the IPAG board while I was away and, after catching up on the details, it became apparent how awesome this opportunity was. She wanted to document the empty interior of Anderson House and our collection shift, donate several of the finished works to the IPAG collection, and hold an exhibition at the project’s culmination. At this time, full time staff at IPAG consisted of just me, and as such I was excited, but daunted, by the enormity of the task ahead. We pushed on and over the course of the year we worked through the details and red tape, as well as revising the project to suit the collection still being on site.

As you can imagine, I was thrilled come October 2017 when Adrienne finally arrived in Invercargill, camera in hand, to undertake this project. By this stage, my team of full timers had grown to three and the juggle of management and motherhood has become my new norm. I was more than ready to sink my teeth into this project.

Watching Adrienne work was eye opening. I have observed sculptors and painters undertake their practice, but never a photographer. Watching the methodical way she set a scene and waited for the light, was a testament to her attention to detail. For me, however, seeing the spaces how she did, through her lens, was the highlight. The interior of Anderson House, although always beautiful, had become confining for me due to my time spent there during its closure, before our operations moved to 5 Don Street. Through Adrienne’s camera, the rooms were stripped bare and the essence of the gallery spaces became the focus. Light and airy, the images she captured show the rooms at Anderson house, in my opinion, at their best.

After a week of intense work, labour and discussion, Adrienne had what she needed and flew back to Wellington to create her final bodies of work, which arrived at IPAG in early March 2018. Hanging these works was an interesting and cathartic experience for me, as it was as if our past had met our present, with our collection shift being the defining thread between the two. The final exhibition Adrienne Martyn: Shift, represents the first time that I have been involved with the entire process of an exhibition, from inception to completion. As a curator, we are so often presented with the finished works, without any insight into their creation. For that reason the works in this exhibition will always have significant personal meaning. For me, this exhibition also signifies the changes I have undergone professionally, and how much I have ‘shifted’ since returning to work. A project that I was initially daunted to take on has become a reality and I have loved the entire process. I thank you Adrienne, for giving me this opportunity.

Sarah Brown

Progress is A-Happening

Another year, another blog and already so much has happened at IPAG!

Just this past week we have had the honour of learning about paper conservation from the lovely Marion Mertens. Marion is a paper conservator based in Dunedin who came down especially to spend a week with us, assess the paper works in our collection and teach us the skills required to un-frame works on paper safely and effectively. On the first day Marion was here we were joined by some of the collections staff from SMAG who were also more than keen to learn from a professional. I must say that it was really rewarding to see skills sharing in action and institutions and professionals from this region working together (we also worked together to demolish an entire devils food chocolate cake which I baked for morning tea shout – absolutely divine if I can say so myself. Thanks Aunty Betty!).

Removing a work from its frame initially feels horrendously wrong. It goes against all the things you are taught under general best practice. However, when it comes to IPAG and the collection shift we had to consider the “buts” and constraints of the situation. Based on estimates that we have had conducted, we know that when the racking forour art is installed in the designated archive space, around only 60-80 percent of the collection will fit. Considering the fact that we need all of the art out of Anderson House ASAP so work can commence on the building, leaves us with more than a slight problem. The bright solution: un-frame some of the works on paper and rehouse them in purpose made archival storage boxes. As a large proportion of the collection are works on paper this solution is simple, cost effective and relatively easy once the training has been delivered. It also aids in the transportation of the works as once they are boxed (approximately 15 in a box) we can then transport multiple works with ease reducing truck hire costs and staff time. We are very careful to only un-frame works that are gallery property (or loan works with the correct permissions) and to never remove a work from a frame which is deemed integral to the work, e.g. artist made and is therefore a part of the overall work or is original and/or valuable.

Two further benefits which come from this decision to begin the un-framing process are: 1. we can pest check all works on paper before relocation to the archives to ensure we do not take any unwanted collection pests into the controlled area, and 2. we can remove any paper backings and mat boards which are acidic and not of conservation standards from the works to prevent further or future damage.

Conservation standard framing is a fairly recent invention meaning that the majority of older paper works in our collection are housed in window mounts which degrade and turn acidic over time. The increasing acidity is detrimental to works on paper and can cause matburn and discolouration to the works where they are in contact. Proper conservation quality matboard is purified by chemical processing of all unstable impurities such as lignin leaving behind a stable product called alpha cellulose. Another option is rag board which is the best available as it is made from 100 percent cotton fibres. It is more expensive than other option but it does have the best long term performance. The saying is true when it comes to conservation “you get what you pay for!” In saying this, numerous arts institutions are stretched when it comes to funds for collection care and management so this option is sadly not obtainable for many.

The physical un-framing process in itself can be rather challenging. Some framing staples and nails are deeply embedded in the back of works, other are rusty and some frames are soft and weak. Works can be adhered to the glass, or badly cockled due to moisture through condensation making them damp and then drying out repeatedly. To avoid problems like this it is important to frame new works to conservation standards if possible. Otherwise store paper works in suitable boxes with tissue layers between them. Only frame paper works when they are going on display and ensure that works are under UV filtered lights, have breathing room between the work and the glass, and are not on display for extended periods of time. The time on display which could be detrimental varies by item so if you are concerned about any works you may have on display feel free to check with your local conservator how often to rotate items in your spaces and situation.

Marion, in conjunction with the National Preservation Office, have produced a wonderful booklet called “Conservation Framing of Works of Art on Paper”. It is a simple, easy to read and digest publication on all aspects of framing works on paper. From someone like me, who has never framed an artwork to conservation standards, it was invaluable. When it comes to un-framing though, best to learn that from the professionals!

We shall see how the next few months go here at IPAG. Moves of art are scheduled and all the team are on board. Soon there will be many works here on site for me to begin the de-framing process with.

Until next time!

Loren Baxter
Assistant Project Registrar

President's Message

As 2017 rushes to an end we can reflect back with some satisfaction on what the Invercargill Public Art Gallery has achieved.

Sarah has risen to the challenge of leading the management of the gallery and has done so with a high level of professionalism and integrity. With new staff Gemma and Loren we have a broad range of useful knowledge and skills to support our exhibitions, public engagement and to get all our art properly catalogued into Ehive. Chris and Ash have continued to provide great support as and when needed.

Our Gallery board are now fully engaged with our strategic plan and we have a number of subcommittees working on numerous areas such as fine-tuning our financial management through to improved membership packages and engagement.

We have increased storage capacity at the Don Street gallery with proper shelving installed and storage racks will be ready for action in the Library archives by January 2018. Then it will be all hands on deck to get the collection out of Anderson House and we had some useful training for staff and board members on packing from Otago Museum staff recently.

It is great to see Anderson house getting some TLC with the spouting, eaves and shutters properly repaired. The shutters have returned to their original green. Once the art is finally out of the house the internal improvements can occur and the plans for the house’s future use look promising. Top NZ photographer Adrienne Martyn has photographed the interior of Anderson house and documented, through wonderful images, the transition process we are undergoing. This will be a wonderful record for the house and the collection as this connection and history is extremely important to retain.

Consultant Tim Walker has presented his proposal for a future art centre/gallery and it is an exciting and innovative concept. We want to run some workshops with our members and interested supporters early next year so that we all understand what will be involved and what the future will be for our collection and gallery society.

Next year will be a crucial one for our collection and our future.

I wish all our members and supporters a wonderful festive season and happy New Year.

Dave Kennedy

The Summer Holiday Season Rush

We are another month down and as per usual for this time of year time is just flying by! Somehow, between the chaos of moving home, starting my new job and re-establishing myself again I have managed to find time to buy all required Christmas presents, foster and rehome a dog, binge watch Riverdale seasons 1 and 2 and partake in a challenge at my gym so I do not feel so guilty for the amount of food I shall consume over the coming weeks.

On top of all that, my greatest achievement of the last month was walking across the stage in Wellington, donned in a fuchsia pink and green stripped Stoll, to finally receive my Masters of Museum and Heritage Practice with Distinction. As one of the first three graduates at Victoria University of Wellington to complete this new practical based qualification and the only one on this occasion with distinction, I must admit I am a little stoked. After five and a half years of study at two prestigious universities, and a rather massive student loan, I can finally say I am qualified to be a working museum professional.

It is young and emerging museum professionals that Southland seems to have been snapping up in recent months. Two fellow Museum and Heritage Studies friends of mine from the course at Victoria University have been employed by SMAG, while Gemma Baldock and I were employed by IPAG. With ideas for both the new art centre and regional storage facility being seriously discussed it is an exciting time to be in the Deep South. I hope that the diversity, perspective and the current industry knowledge that we can bring to the arts sector down here is going to help bring on some big, bold and wonderful changes for the benefit of the Southland people and the CBD.

While on the topic of education and change, we here at IPAG were lucky enough to have had the presence of Nyssa and Lisa, Conservators from the Otago Museum, at Anderson House running an educational art handling and storage workshop with the members of our staff and board. This first session worked to teach those involved with the Gallery who have limited collections based training, the basics behind object handling, packing methods and the other considerations necessary before moving art objects. It also addressed object labelling which involves mastering the use of an ancient technology, the fountain ink pen. Those who could attend were absorbed by the day’s events with the men in particular thriving when it came to box creation and object nesting. Even as someone trained in this discipline I will always appreciate being reminded of the basics and learning the best practice methods that other leading institutions utilise. One should never become overconfident in one’s ability, as that is when the mistakes can happen, and with such a big move on the horizons for 2018 I want to be as prepared as possible.

While at our Don Street site I have been enjoying my new office surrounds in the storeroom which now displays beautifully wrapped works on lovely new hydestor shelving units. If not hiding in my corner amongst the art conducting inventory and preparing lists of items to move next, I have been lending a hand with installation and/or gallery minding. Our current show, Blue Black: Lost and Found, Flotsam and Jetsam is truly eye catching. With some of the numerous 3D works standing taller than me I feel rather lost in fairy forest every morning when I arrive and unlock.  The colourful creations are stunning, alien flower like arrangements which took the team of us around three days to perfect. I thoroughly loved this install, due to the vibrant personality of Blue himself, the creations I got to handle, and the final outcome. If floristry is anything like this, I may have found my new hobby!

In conjunction with this exhibition we have been running a Creation Station where children under the age of eleven can drop in with a caregiver and create a Blue Black inspired sculpture from craft and recycled materials.  The background sounds of children getting creative and proclaiming things such as “I’m an artist!” makes sitting in my office all the more difficult as I just want to run out and admire their untamed creativity and beautiful final products. I am the only one out of us three girls that has not yet embraced my inner child and designed my own creation. Perhaps as my next break from my computer screen I shall have to give in to this urge just as I used to do during craft time at the library!

Well, it seems that it is almost time to wrap things up for the year that is 2017. I wish everyone a happy Christmas and I hope that far too much food is consumed and many wonderful smiles are had. I know that I will be cooking numerous recipes from my new Chelsea Winter cook book and loading all my friends and family up with my famed Christmas fudge.  All the best, and you shall hear from me in 2018.

Happy Holidays!

Loren Baxter
Assistant Project Registrar

My Beginnings at IPAG

To be honest my first month here at IPAG, as the Assistant Project Registrar, has been a true baptism by fire and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. Four weeks ago now I packed up my humble abode in Wellington, loaded my poor old car to the brim and drove the length of the South Island and some to move back home to Invercargill. My inner self was a little out of sorts at the realisation that I was moving back in with the parents on the eve of my 25th birthday. Luckily, they love me enough to take me back in, household lot of items and all.

From the moment I walked in on the first day I had to put my collections management skills to use as we worked solidly for a week de-installing the show titled “As Others See Us”. The beauty of this situation was that IPAG were working in partnership with SAF (Southland Art Foundation) and SMAG (Southland Museum and Art Gallery) on this show meaning that I a.) got to network with other fellow southland arts professionals and b.) observe and learn how another institution handles, packs, shifts and manages their art collection.

Having a natural awe of brilliant organisation and methodical systems as well as a practised attention to detail (honed from playing numerous eye spy books in my childhood) means I have a desire to observe what is behind closed doors in every art based institution. Recently, this desire was more than fulfilled when I participated in the Open Palace Programme over in the United Kingdom. Here I joined a group of likeminded art and heritage professionals and students to tour around heritage sites and buildings for twenty days. The goal was to learn as much as possible and experience the combined reality and beauty of managing art and historic buildings in this part of the world.

One example I will never forget was the beautiful Woburn Abbey. Its original purpose is clear in its name, however, this building is now home to the current Duke of Bedford and his family, as well as having a public garden, state room examples, pottery shop, function venue, café, and numerous gallery spaces. Despite the apparent beauty of this place, when viewed with a critical eye, rooms such as the state rooms, began to show their faults; extreme fading and textile deterioration, poor visitor flow and pathways, and museum and gallery spaces with problematic display spaces. The managers of Woburn Abbey were more than forthcoming about these faults and allowed us as professionals to brainstorm ways to eliminate or improve many of the issues we identified on our tour of the stately home. This simple exercise allowed us to see exactly how challenging it is to balance all of these different purposes under one roof and how best practice is incredibly time consuming, costly and often difficult even for the biggest, most well - established and frequented institutions.

Beginning my job here with this information fresh in my brain has been very beneficial. I can approach the situation here in Invercargill with understanding of both the technical and emotional issues. As a child who grew up here and frequently visited Anderson House and gardens with my nana, I do appreciate the value and significance this house has for the people of Invercargill. But I must admit that I was very surprised to learn that the art in the house was not the Anderson’s. I suspect that many locals, like myself, believed that the art housed at Anderson House belonged to the Anderson family and was gifted along with the house. It was only through applying for my job as Assistant Project Registrar that I learnt Invercargill Public Art Gallery was formed years before it moved into Anderson’s House and in honour of this generous gift from the Anderson family changed its name to suit. While the association between Anderson House and the art contained within is clearly a strong one, the reality is this art collection belongs to us, the people, the city, not to Anderson House. In looking to protect and preserve this collection it is now critical to look beyond this historical association. This is one of the key challenges for our team at IPAG.

Lastly, I am here to focus on the art. Despite there being several competing challenges around this collection, including heritage building management, collections management and the condition of the artworks, my principal task is to make the best decisions possible for the art.  This includes ensuring it is digitally documented on Ehive, condition checking and reporting on every one of the 1000 pieces and then safely transporting and resettling them into their new climate controlled home.  I am also tasked with sorting through the mountains of stored paperwork regarding all the artworks. I have already discovered beautiful childhood photos of all the old staff and board members and true gems such as a handwritten letter from Colin McCahon and documentation which authenticates our Goldie.

I hope my time here at IPAG will benefit the Invercargill community and help IPAG get prepared for whatever lies ahead in the future with the proposed new art centre.

Please feel free to let me know your thoughts on this blog. Have you enjoyed it or is there something you want me to cover in my next piece?

Loren Baxter
Assistant Project Registrar

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