If proof were needed of the triumph of capitalism, and its unruly stepchild, consumerism, then one need look no further than the bizarrely popular phenomenon of ‘unboxing’ videos. This is a practice in which the unpackaging of a new, usually desirable consumable is filmed and uploaded to YouTube. The viewer experiences the vicarious thrill of acquisition without any of the cumbersome substance of ownership.
Regular visitors to Havelock North will have watched with interest the unboxing of the Village Exchange building, which spans the intersection of Havelock and Te Aute Roads. Art Deco purists may have shuddered inwardly as the board façade featuring aspirational drawings, by Architecture HDT Hawke’s Bay, gave way to a behemoth of glass and steel that would be equally at home in a midsized American metropolis, be it Marvel or Monterey.
One of the first tenants of this unapologetically modern construction is Muse Gallery, showing contemporary New Zealand artists in a small but thoughtfully designed space. Muted industrial chic abounds in the polished concrete floors, high ceilings and steel mounted light fittings, but really serve as a blank canvas on which the art is displayed, as well they should. Essentially, the lighting too is excellent, achieving balance between natural light, from full length windows and artificial, from above. This is perfect for the bold, thickly painted canvasses and striking three dimensional pieces currently on display, but I can’t help wondering if they have the facility to hang drapes of some kind should they wish to show delicate watercolours or similarly subtle work in the future. Mention must be made of the innovative vertical sliding metal drawers that allow multiple canvases to be viewed and replaced within the same space, with ample room to step back and take them in at a distance. It’s a really clever way to maximise the work that can be shown, while retaining an atmosphere of minimalism.
For their Winter Series, one half of the window space is devoted to a single artist whose work rotates biweekly. It’s a smart move in a new market, an exercise in flinging stuff at the wall to see what sticks. In their blurb it’s billed as artistic speed dating – showcasing a series of styles and approaches in order to gauge what will elicit a public response, and presumably tailoring their stock to reflect that.
It’s clear that their business model is to cultivate patrons, employing well informed staff who are obviously passionate about art, staging talks with artists, and offering consultation, finance and leasing services. The latter especially feels like an expression of the zeitgeist – a sort of sharing economy for works of art. Owner and prominently featured artist, Kaye McGarva, certainly waxes lyrical about accessibility and education. Perhaps there is an aspect of democratisation here, when a piece with a four-figure price tag can be leased for as little as $15 a week – about the same as a mid-sized (by today’s standards) television.
Despite these lofty aspirations this is decidedly not art for the masses as Warhol made in the 1960s, or as Banksy makes today. By all of its social cues and markers it consciously selects the market to whom it wishes to appeal. Perhaps it’s my world-weary cynicism talking, but I just can’t see the leasing system being used to bring art into the homes of those who have been thus far deprived. Rather its far more likely to provide a high-end unboxing experience to those with the means and inclination.