The scaffolding is gone, the red multi-gabled roof gleams, the outdoor signage is up and a crowd of 350+ has gathered in the forecourt of the Hastings City Art Gallery waiting to be welcomed into the building.
This is the opening of EAST 2020, the public art gallery’s flagship art exhibition, held biennially, showcasing the work of artists of the East Coast region.
Months before the event occurs, the HCAG calls for submissions in the form of verbal descriptions, photographic or drawn images that are carefully assessed and considered for selection by the HCAG team with their team leader and curator, Clayton Gibson. The artwork is then delivered and displayed in time for the November opening.
The result is an amazingly diverse selection of sculptures, paintings, photography, print, mixed media and ceramics produced by artists whose names may be synonymous with the region’s art scene, or, names that are new to us with fresh things to say.
In the days since, I have been reflecting on the opening as there was much to consider. Certainly, a second, third or even fourth visit to the gallery to familiarise myself with the artists’ work, to ruminate on it and share thoughts and conversations with others as we savour the feel-good aspects associated with art.
At the opening there was a sense of occasion generated by the formalities and anticipation of what our region’s visual artists had produced, what it would look like in this hallowed space.
As one of those whose work was selected, I was excited to be here – and then noted my own response to this occasion – the sense of inclusion with a community of artists that were being honoured for doing what we are passionate about, that is, delving deep into our chosen artform and offering it up for public scrutiny. I believe my experience was widely shared, especially amongst the artists present.
I want to congratulate all the team of HCAG, in particular Jonathan Brown, exhibition designer who is an acknowledged practicing artist himself. Besides having extraordinary practical design skills, he knows how to get the best out of the galleries at HCAG through manipulation of spaces and lighting and how to present artwork to its best advantage.
Clayton Gibson is bringing a new sense of inclusion with his curatorial style. He has been in the job since April. Starting during Lockdown he set out to learn the role and its protocols, taking his time to understand the visual art scene of Hawke’s Bay and the influencers within council and beyond.
He values working collaboratively with the team at HCAG. With the Tika Tonu exhibition, now an annual event for the Ngati Kahungunu artists’ collective, he has reached out to the Maori community in a meaningful way, while also extending into the diversity of artists and art decision-makers who work within the region as a whole.
Tellingly, he spent many hours over recent months visiting artists (selected and unselected) in their studios, listening to their stories, asking questions about their processes and intentions and in turn, answering their questions about his role as he sees it. One senses Gibson is slow to make judgments in an arts world where opinions on the arts are often myopic, elitist or borrowed tropes; he is listening and absorbing information before firming up on his own opinions.
EAST is an important event in our region. It is an opportunity for artists to see their work professionally exhibited in a non-commercial environment, to become known amongst their peers and the art-loving public and be affirmed in their purpose.
Many artists have long memories of the Norsewear Awards, the forerunner to EAST that was also a regional invitational exhibition but which, unlike EAST, offered a generously sponsored award to a winner. EAST has no prize except being selected and exhibited, a nicely democratic acknowledgement.
It is possible that in future years, Gibson will select on other principles than he has with this, his first East 2020, where he celebrates the diversity of talent and is generously inclusive in the selections.
I and the other artists spoken to in recent days are feeling pretty good about the way the HCAG is shaping up and in a region that lacks leadership in the visual arts, perhaps we may see Clayton Gibson emerge as the regional voice of the visual arts?
EAST 2020 runs until the 28th February 2021.
Photo: Dali Susanto, local artist, seen with sculpture by Ricks Terstappen, ‘Happy, 2020’
Photo: HCAG curator Clayton Gibson curator officially opens EAST 2020