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Dead centre at the periphery
Periphery and centre have a strange relationship in Gallery 14 at the Queensland Art Gallery.
Physically on the outer of the Gallery complex, Gallery 14 was set up as a purpose-built centre for contemporary and experimental art. But since 1982 Gallery 14's coherent use as a contemporary space has been marginal.
It has mostly taken overflows from non-contemporary exhibitions, or visiting blockbusters. For lengthy periods it has been closed. Only occasionally has it shown exciting contemporary work. That is a sad commentary on the putative engagement of the State's major art institution with the current work of younger artists.
One of the few recent arguably 'contemporary' self-contained exhibitions in Gallery 14, Peter Booth: Dark Vision, showed four paintings lent from one of Brisbane's best-endowed private collections of contemporary art.
The Booth show, small as it was, demonstrated some of the strengths and shortcomings of Gallery 14's present use as a contemporary space. Lighting and placement of works in the largely enclosed Gallery 14 provided both the intimacy and distance demanded by the introspective nature of Booth's anxiety-ridden works.
Top-lighting of the canvases, hanging above plinths set out about a metre from the walls, brought out a floating quality sympathetic to Booth's familiar dreamscapes which provoke a meditative mood through personally-expressive images, the vulnerable directness of which can evoke immediate emotional responses.
On opposite walls, the void of the vertical abstract acrylic Untitled 1973-74, from Booth's ‘black doorway' period, confronted the fragmented mirrors of the vibrantly aggressive acrylic Painting 1976.
On the intervening wall, the search for self renewed itself in the apocalyptic gestures of the figurative expressionist works Painting 1979 and Painting 1981, oils which show constant motivation behind changing form.
The interpretive demands of Booth's non-titles, his mixture of uncertainty and hope, and a retained English sensibility mediated through Slake, Samuel Palmer, L.S. Lowry, and some surrealists, were well focused by the enclosing gallery space.
A number of Booth's drawings are held in the private collection from which the exhibition was drawn. It was unfortunate (given that the Queensland Art Gallery holds only one Booth drawing) that some could not have been shown on Gallery 14's free wall, in view of the sizeable contribution that Booth's quite large body of drawings makes to an understanding of his work.
It would also have been helpful to have had some explanatory material - wall cards, audio, video, or leaflets - on hand for the proportion of Gallery visitors who wandered through in evident puzzlement.
Gallery 14's isolation on the edge of public display areas (revealing in itself) was originally meant to encourage imaginative and unconventional use. It is time to turn Gallery 14 (the number, ironically, symbolises organization and justice) in a planned way to its originally intended use.