Art History, 2017
On 22 September 1999 the Adam Art Gallery opened its doors to the public for the first time. Its inaugural exhibition, Manufacturing Meaning, showcased 10 major works from the Victoria University art collection.
This show set the stage for the Adam as a gallery, as an institution, and as a reflection of the aims and ideals of the University.
Manufacturing Meaning was not really one exhibition but 10 small ones. Each work selected for the show had its own curator and accompanying catalogue. The display of the works, and discussion surrounding them, reflected the practice of the artist, or the ideas and issues raised by the art work.
Manufacturing Meaning curator, Christina Barton, suggests that staging the show as a series of smaller exhibitions had major benefits.
She notes that it, “opened up access to the [University’s] collection to a group of different thinkers and curators,” and allowed for a “diverse range of responses that illustrated the state of curatorial practice at that time".
For example, Ralph Hotere’s Song Cycle: The Voyage was one of a series of multi-media works inspired by Bill Manhire’s 'Song Cycle' poems, but it had never been exhibited in that context.
Curator Lawrence McDonald working with Hotere’s collaborators, Jack Body and David Crossan, brought this context to Hotere’s work, with a soundscape of Manhire’s poems that played in the space when the works were installed.
In addition to Hotere's art work, Manufacturing Meaning focused on works by Colin McCahon, Jacqueline Fahey, Frances Hodgkins, Peter Peryer, John Weeks, Michael Smither, Gordon Walters, John Pule, and Richard Killeen.
The decision to open the Adam with a show of art works from the collection served three purposes. The first was that it allowed for some of its best pieces to be seen together.
In this new space, viewers could appreciate the scope and depth of the collection, and realise the importance of Victoria’s collection of twentieth-century New Zealand art.
Secondly, one of the primary responsibilities of the Adam Art Gallery is the management of the University art collection. Beyond displaying the qualities of these works, Manufacturing Meaning also reflected this intimate relationship between the Gallery and the art works it cares for.
Finally, as a University gallery, the Adam is connected to the unique cultural and educational ethos of Victoria.
Christina Barton, Director of the Adam since 2007, notes that the Gallery’s “location on campus enables us to place art into a broader context of other disciplinary areas and perspectives which is unique to the university context.”
Manufacturing Meaning did not just show art works, but placed them in context and raised debates about them. This is much like the role of a university, as a site of teaching and research. Because of this, the Adam’s inaugural exhibition was much more than a gallery opening.
Instead, it was the first act in the establishment of a unique space for the exhibition of art, a space that operates in tandem with the aspirations and mission of Victoria University.