December 08, 2006

IN PROGRESS | GOMA & State Library of Qld

It would be remiss to not offer a comment about the reporting and coverage of the unveilling of the new Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane and its sibling the State Library of Queensland. Generally both structures have won the hearts and minds of all, other than some quibbles. Is this concerning? Should such structures generate aesthetic controversy? Think Bilbao. Do these institutions, as expressions of the public or civic culture, actually represent the public so well that that have caused barely a ripple of discontent?

Both are astounding buildings. They have the kind of monumentality that we have come to expect of 'great public buildings'. They are certainly sights. Like a number of people I have spoken to, I can't help but respond more warmly to the State Library for its democratic ambience, its intimate flexibility and its networked spatiality.

GOMA is certainly a majestic building to behold. However, I couldn't help but think, once inside that it had the spatial quality and feel of a shopping centre. Perhaps that's because I have been reading about Jon Jerde's retail architecture. We enter into a large atrium and are then transported up escalators, after which spaces are hived off into multiple boxes. It has the kind of circular peramabulation and faux glam experience of a shopping centre. The volume diminishes into those smaller spaces although not in an intimate-looking-at-art way. As we walk, we circle back to the massive atrium space that dissects the building like a gorge. Looking across this while riding the escalator, there is an edifice of blank white wall. It continually emphasises the grandeur of its scale - the smallness of us and the art it houses. Space seems to leak and seep away. This is quite unlike the spaces of the existing gallery, which in my viewings always seemed to recede. They gave that all important sense of framing - it is a gallery afterall and its frame matters.

Walking through, there is certainly the experience of a building and that it a worthy experience in some respects. However, it is a building that emphasises itself at every opportunity - dominating the art. For all its volume, the artwork seems crowded, sometimes hanging in what is more like a corridor or passage way than a work of starchitecture. Here is a building that says rather a lot about the state government's desire for grandiosity. This is most strongly indicated in the placement of the signage for Indigenous Australian Art gallery - right next to some toilets. In fact a particularly powerful work by Vernon Ah Kee, featuring a series of images, is hung with the toilet entrance smack bang in the middle of it. You have to wonder, when so much about curating is couched in terms of care and thoughtfulness, about the thought that went into that.

To be continued.

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