Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hobart Art Galleries: a personal overview

[note: this is an old guide. An updated one can be found here]

The other day, an old friend from Sydney asked if there are many art galleries in Hobart. I don’t think she was being disparaging, because to be honest, it took me about three years to become even mildly familiar with the Hobart gallery scene. So I thought I’d do a quick overview of the key Hobart galleries (with lots of opinion), and send her the link with the added bonus that perhaps, just perhaps, it may interest others. Please note, that this is not a comprehensive listing of all Hobart galleries (I’d be here all day), but rather the ones that I regularly or semi-regularly visit and/or ones relevant to contemporary art and this blog.
The Plimsoll is the University of Tasmania’s gallery, located at the Tasmanian School of Art on Hobart’s waterfront. The gallery is a little tricky to find as it is tucked away underneath the art school, which is housed in the majestic old IXL jam factory. The gallery has a rotation of three week curated exhibitions with an emphasis on international and interstate artists, although there are often quite a few artworks by Tasmanian artists on show. The Plimsoll Gallery, in my opinion, is one of the best contemporary art spaces in Hobart, showing an eclectic mix of exhibitions, which are usually quite challenging and cutting-edge, but occasionally regresses a little. Unfortunately, over the summer, in Hobart’s busiest tourist season (and when the gallery’s icicle-like temperatures are actually productive), the gallery is used for research post-graduate examinations, and is closed during the week. However, the post-graduate examinations are generally open to the public the weekend following examination, so check out the gallery’s website before you visit.
The current exhibition at the Plimsoll is the Wharmby Collection, which showcases works purchased by the University throughout the 90s as a result of a generous bequest from Marion Wharmby. The exhibition includes works by Sally Smart, Fiona Hall, David Keeling, Hossein Valamanesh, Bill Yaxley, and Elizabeth Gower to name a few, and has a distinct and funky thematic (a nice reflection perhaps, of the collection committee chaired by Lorraine Jenyns). The collection is not yet finished; in fact, the remaining money has grown in the last decade so that a substantial amount remains. The committee hopes to start acquiring works again by the end of the year, with the aim of completing the collection by the end of the year so that a monograph can be produced. It’s a good 90s art show, and not at all as boring as a exhibition with the word ‘collection’ in it, may suggest.
To get to the Plimsoll, you have to walk through the windy art school tunnel, which houses the Tasmanian University Union-run gallery, Entrepôt. All students enrolled at the University are eligible to apply, both postgrad and undergrad, and as a result, the gallery showcases a wide range of art styles, and more notoriously, standards. Nevertheless, there are few restrictions placed on exhibitors at the gallery (I think there are three rules: you can’t burn the gallery down, brick the door up, or sleep there), and I’ve seen some pretty wacky exhibitions there over the years. Currently at Entrepôt is the TUU-affiliated Sculpture Society’s (unofficial) annual exhibition. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, including few videos, a work using blood samples and microscopes, and some interesting liquid-filled objects to name a few; but it’s definitely an improvement on last year’s show.
CAST (Contemporary Art Services Tasmania)
CAST is similar in its focus on contemporary art to the Plimsoll, but with an emphasis on local art. Located in Tasma St, North Hobart, and harder to find than the Plimsoll, they have a strangely difficult space to show work in despite its regular cubic shape (for some reason even the most imposing sculptures tend to shrink in the space). As the name of the organization suggests, CAST provides services beyond the gallery, assisting artists with grants, advocacy and other such necessities, and is run by an enthusiastic group. They also have some great annual programs such as the Emerging Curator Mentorship, the 3 into 1 show for emerging local artists, and the fun CAST members show (December), which by sheer necessity, is hung salon style. Currently at CAST is About Photography II.
Inflight is Hobart’s (relatively) long-running Artist Run Initiative (ARI), which is more challenging to find than the Plimsoll and CAST combined… plus some. Inflight is hidden behind the toilets, which are behind the garbage bins, behind the carpark, behind Kaos café in Elizabeth St North Hobart. The gallery has two small spaces, and so there are usually two shows running at any one time. The work there often wants to be innovative and [insert contemporary art buzz word here], with various level of success, but it’s always worth a look. I haven’t actually been to the current exhibitions, which I understand consists of a curated exhibition in the main gallery and in the smaller gallery, a show by local artist, Iona Johnson.
6a is the new ARI on the block. In the last two (?) years since its opening, the gallery/studio complex, housed in an ex-pet butchers/slaughterhouse, has established itself as an art space to complement, rather than rival, Inflight. The difficultly shaped space encourages site-specific art (if you’ve ever wanted to make a work in a kitchen or bathtub, apply now). The openings are always last on a night’s gallery opening run and usually run quite late, with crowds of younger, scungy, arty types gripping beers and toasties around a fire in an old oil drum in the gallery’s dusty carpark, accompanied by the sounds of local musicians/sound makers. Not quite on the same scale of hard-to-find as Inflight, to get to 6a Newdegate St, North Hobart, look for the meaty sign at the entrance of an industrial-looking driveway between two houses. Ben Booth’s work is currently on show, including some of his wonderful distinctly styled sculptures, and an anxious-making video.
Fine Arts Gallery (FAG)
The FAG is a small Tasmanian School of Art-run space up on the main campus of the Uni, Sandy Bay. I rarely make the ‘trek’ (I think I’ve been in tiny Hobart too long if I think of a trip to Sandy Bay as a significant mission), but I understand that it’s got a new and enthusiastic committee and has had some really good shows recently. Currently on show is the work of 3rd year painting students.
As the major state institution, I probably should have put the TMAG first, however, it just doesn’t show enough contemporary art to warrant an early mention. To give the TMAG credit, there have been some great shows in the last few years - mostly survey shows of the work of artists such as Mike Parr, Patricia Piccinini, and Leigh Hobba. The annual Hobart City Council art prize, hosted by the gallery, keeps getting better too. Funds are apparently an ongoing problem in regards to both acquisitions and exhibitions, but it’s a real shame that such a high profile and prominently positioned institution can’t host a more consistent cycle of relevant and engaging art exhibitions. Currently on display in the ‘art’ area is a small selection of art and craft in a walk-through area (enthusiastically titled The 80s Show); a beautiful exhibition of indigenous fibre works, called Tayenebe; and Jao Tsung-I – calligraphy and painting by the Chinese scholar, which has unfortunately been advertised as ‘the largest…’ and ‘the only…’ rather than emphasising the exhibition’s artistic merits.
The church-turned-house-turned-gallery, Detached, was unveiled late last year to co-host Mike Parr’s The Tilted Stage with the TMAG. It’s privately owned, but behaves like a well-endowed public gallery. To be honest, I don’t really know much about the gallery, but I like what I’ve seen so far. Detached is currently hosting Brook Andrew’s 8 Months of War, and is located in Campbell St, just around the corner from the TMAG.
The Carnegie Gallery is a Hobart City Council-run gallery hidden above the Maritime Museum in Argyle St (this hiding-the-gallery thing is turning out to be a massive theme in this post). It has an eclectic range of exhibitions, ranging from the best that contemporary art can offer, to the Australian Glass Society’s members’ exhibition. Ignore the Maritime Museum attendants when you enter. They’ll glare at you, but just keep walking up the grand stairs.
Salamanca Arts Centre
The Salamanca Arts Centre houses a number of galleries, but I’m going to list them as one simply because this post is blowing out. The largest gallery is the Long Gallery, which again has an eclectic mix, although they’re less discriminating than most of the other galleries listed above. One weekend you might find a blaring sound art exhibition and a room full of finches jumping on amped up guitars, the next you’ll stumble across a show by the Tasmanian Embroidery Club. Go figure. Next to the Long Gallery is the Sidespace and on the very top floor is the appropriately titled Topspace. The Long Gallery, Sidespace, Topspace, and Kelly’s Garden (an outside, gravel-filled space) all accept proposals, and there’s usually at least one good exhibition on at any one time.
Salamanca Arts Centre is also home to a couple of artist coops, the best of which is called Handmark. Handmark is currently showing a weird and wonderful exhibition of paintings and sculptures by Tricky Walsh. In addition, there are a number of ‘craft ‘n’ art’ shops, many of which are pretty banal, although the jewellery shops are quite good.
Bett Gallery is a commercial gallery, and part of the Hobart furniture. It shows quite a mixture of art, although painting seems to be the predominant medium of choice. They also favour male artists. In addition to their shop front in North Hobart, they show work in Raincheck Lounge, a coffee shop just down the road, although these shows tend to exhibit the work of younger, emerging artists.
Like Bett Gallery, the commercial Criterion Gallery tends to favour male artists. Nevertheless, Criterion is always worth a visit. Located in Criterion St in the centre of the CBD, make sure you have a coffee at the adjacent Criterion Café at the same time.
MONA (Museum of Old and New Art)
The Museum of Old and New Art isn’t even finished, but since it’s so eagerly awaited, I thought I’d tack it onto the end of this list. I visited the construction site a month ago and it looks amazing already. Tasmanian philanthropist and owner of Moorilla winery, David Walsh, is building the massive museum (it promises to be the largest private art gallery in Australia) to house his significant (and growing) art collection, a theatre, space for temporary and touring exhibitions, a library, and bar…s. The website is worth a visit even if you can't get the museum yet.
Mega post completed. Again, I must stress that this is all just opinion. Enjoy art.


Benjamin Ryan said...

Hi Lucy,
Detached does seem to invoke a sense of ambiguity to most, and that certainly is part of the philosophy. They do, however, want people to engage with the exhibitions and its various events. Soon enough we'll be hosting a string of talks in the space with various characters coming from art and non-art backgrounds. If you're passing by drop in and I'll fill you in on the still-in-production schedule.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Lucy for an in depth overview. For a newcomer like me, where does Inka fit in, or dosn't it?

Lucy said...

Steve, it's interesting that you should mention Inka as I had originally included it with Handmark, but removed it just before publishing the post. Inka has some nice stuff, but it doesn't have the same level of cutting-edge contemporary art that you *can* see at Handmark.

I'm not discounting Inka, it's more that this 'overview' was an survey of galleries that are relevant to my blog content. While I like some of the work at Inka, I've never seen anything that I've gone 'ooh, I have to review that!'

Thanks for asking. It's a good question.