What defines a museum...

Museums Aotearoa defines a museum as an organisation which is primarily engaged in collecting, caring for, developing, exhibiting or interpreting the natural and cultural heritage of Aotearoa New Zealand.

The Southland Museum and Art Gallery, whose building was recently closed to the public, can continue to do this. In order for it to, one thing needs to be made very clear from the outset.

A museum is not defined by its building.

Instead, a museum is defined by its people; the staff who work passionately and tirelessly to preserve and give access to a community’s cultural heritage. A museum is defined by its collection; the objects that are imbedded with the stories of generations past. A museum is defined by its community; the people who actively engage in its offerings and support its work.

For these reasons, the recent referral to the ‘death’ of the SMAG has made me uncomfortable. I do understand the need to give staff and public a chance to grieve and process what has occurred, as the loss of jobs and the physical presence of the museum has been shocking for the Invercargill community. But SMAG, as an entity, it still very much alive. Death implies an inability to go on and move forward and whilst their current building is closed, the essence of SMAG and its reason for being has definitely not ceased.

Having experienced the closure of our own iconic building that housed our art collection, I know how deeply entrenched a physical location can be in the psyche of Southlanders. I do believe however that in order for the cultural renaissance that Invercargill so desperately needs to occur, the core reasons why museums and galleries exist need to be at the forefront of all our minds. For, when you focus on these, the solutions are then about purpose and capacity rather than just bricks and mortar. This doesn't diminish the need for a place to operate from but makes the priorities clearer and expands what is possible.

Sarah Brown

Clearing up some mistruths...

As the Manager/Curator of the Invercargill Public Art Gallery, I have become quite accustomed to hearing misinformation about our move from Anderson House, the public art collection that we care for, and the future direction of the arts and cultural scene on a daily basis. Most of the time, both myself and the gallery staff brush these comments off and keep on keeping on…a decision largely based on knowing that we know the facts of the situation, and that we are doing all we can to move forward in a positive manner.

Lately however, it is becoming harder and harder to let these mistruths linger. So I would like to take the opportunity to clear some things up.

The decision for IPAG to leave Anderson House was neither kneejerk, or without consideration of how this decision would sit amongst the wider community. Before the closure at the beginning of 2014, IPAG was painfully aware of the house’s limitations and the very visible effects that these were having on the art collection. Built as a home, not a gallery, Anderson House has no climate control, causing a number of conservation issues and the store rooms, which included the attic, were bursting at the seams. Accessibility was an issue with the top floor of the house and the public bathrooms being off limits to those with mobility issues. Not to mention the constant challenge that having your main art gallery outside the city boundary brings. Change was desperately required, and indeed planning for this had begun, but none of us were anticipating what was around the corner.

Cue January 2014 and a failed seismic survey, and we were faced with one of the biggest decisions in the gallery’s history. Discussion and debate ensued over the next two years and under the guidance of our then Manager/Curator Stephen Davies, we focused on considering what was best, in the long term, for the public art collection of Invercargill. I know it’s not easy, but when you remove the emotional attachment that Anderson House and its beautiful surroundings have for a lot of people, and evaluate it purely on its merits to house a valuable art collection, its inadequacies become very clear. Lately we have had people suggest that the house could be upgraded during its earthquake strengthening to meet these requirements, and of course theoretically this is an option. Just look at Pah Homestead in Auckland or the Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui. Doing this however would not address the need that has been illustrated both by the SoRDs committee and the ‘art in the heart’ consultation process which all call for an art gallery in the city centre.

The decision was made to leave Anderson House and move the collection into temporary storage in the CBD until a purpose built space is ready to house it permanently. Due to limited staffing and funding, this process is still ongoing. Currently 45% of our collection is housed at our temporary gallery in 5 Don Street, many of which are works on paper which are currently being un-framed, cleaned and pest checked. The remainder of the collection is still housed at Anderson House, of which about 35% is packed, awaiting the installation of our racking system into the Invercargill City Library and Archive. We hope to remove the last piece of work from Anderson House by the end of July 2018. I don’t know how this will feel as Anderson House has been our home since 1951, and is therefore an integral part of our history and story. We by no means want to forget that; this is just a new chapter.

As we await the outcome of the ICC Long Term Plan and the proposed Art Centre which may one day house us, we are dedicated to maintaining an active and engaging presence in the CBD. Our temporary gallery at 5 Don Street may be small, but it is staffed with people whose passion for what they do make its presence in the community huge. I must also stress that as members of Museums Aotearoa, their Code of Ethics informs all the decisions that we make. This document places collection care and public access to collections at the heart of museum/gallery work, and so do we, every day. If you have any questions about our collection, our shift from Anderson House to the CBD, or our future plans, we urge you to come and talk to us directly.

Sarah Brown

Networking at its finest

With the recent closure of the Southland Museum and Art Gallery and the timeline for the I.L.T hotel development yet to be confirmed, it is safe to say that there has been feelings of uncertainly at IPAG. What we are certain about however is how important it is for the GLAM (Gallery, Library, Archives and Museum) sector to work together for support, guidance and collegiality in this time of flux. As such, Sarah, Gemma and I decided to spend a day out and about visiting Mataura Museum, Eastern Southland Gallery and the Community Gallery in Mandeville (Riverton you shall be next!).

First stop was to the Mataura Museum where we were wonderfully greeted by David Luoni with our morning caffeine fix in hand. He gave us a tour of the cottage and historic orchard (which has some amazing sized pears and crab apples of present) and explained how things used to be. Seeing photographs of the cottage as it was when originally purchased really put the restoration effort into context.

Everything at the Mataura museum has been done with the community’s needs in mind, this includes keeping the upkeep and running requirements to a minimum so as to be manageable for the small elderly volunteer workforce. This workforce, however, is not to be underestimated. Under the guidance and support of David this volunteer team has managed to expertly catalogue, pack and digitise their entire collection, albeit it a small one. Walking into their purpose built storeroom was collections management heaven. Very soon all three of us had started asking David many collections based questions, such as, who supplies his storage crates and what materials he prefers to use out of the range of approved options for his collections storage. We certainly picked his brain for knowledge and he happily obliged.

David also updated us on his research into the proposed regional storage facility and explained to us why he believes Ehive to be so integral.  Many regional museums and galleries have no idea of the exact number of items or space requirements of/in their collection. If they enter their entire collection, piece by piece, onto Ehive they will soon have a clear and accurate record of all items including measurements. This will ultimately provide a much clearer space requirement for the proposed regional storage facility and assist greatly in its planning. IPAG ourselves have recently finished entering the base information for our entire collection on to Ehive so we understand exactly what this process entails and are pleased to hear that support is coming for the smaller institutions who need to learn this process.

We then popped along to Gore and met briefly with Jim Geddes. Even with people flowing through the door like a tide, Jim managed to offer us a cuppa, show us around the latest exhibition and educate us on the proposed upcoming art developments in Gore. It was very encouraging to see that Gore is investing for the long term benefit of the arts in the community and it gives me faith that Invercargill people will too.

Following this, we stuck our heads in at the Honokui Moonshine Museum so that I, the only one who had not seen it before, could briefly experience the wonderful dioramas that present the hidden processes of the moonshine industry (Gemma’s favourite part). Sadly we had to give the whiskey tasting at the end a miss (it being a work trip and all). The team there are in the midst of installing the Sergeant Dan Exhibition which will, by the looks of things, be well worth a visit!

To finish the day we headed to Mandeville to see the wildlife photography exhibition currently displayed in the new community gallery.  This community space for Eastern Southland is held in the foyer area of the Croyden Aviation Heritage Centre (Croyden Aircraft Museum). It is a lovely bright space with a very conveniently located café and gift store nearby (well worth a visit ladies!).

At the end of the day we left feeling substantially more positive and uplifted. Our car journey home was much faster than that mornings, probably due to the change in energy and team bonding that occurred over the day. Following this, it was also wonderful to have a surprise visit from Jim on Tuesday to our gallery to see our current exhibition Adrienne Martyn: Shift for himself.

Keep it up fellow GLAM sector employees! Stay positive and the good changes will come.

Loren Baxter
Assistant Project Registrar


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