Ratepayers' art burden

MORRIS WEST
Last updated 08:47 06/11/2012

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OPINION: I may not know much about art, but I know what I like!

That quote, from Monty Python sketch The Penultimate Supper, pretty much sums up my attitude to art, be it visual, performance, whatever.

In the sketch, the Pope has commissioned Michaelangelo to paint the Last Supper, and is presented with a painting containing 28 disciples, three Christs and a kangaroo. That in itself pretty well sums up the majority of contemporary artists exhibited at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, who seem to have a complete disconnection from reality.

I was chosen to present this article because there is a perception by some that I am an art philistine.

Nothing could be further from the truth. All who have ever attended local theatre or any local rugby game will know that I have a great love for the performance arts.

I also have a strong appreciation for other visual art forms, having participated in a number of V48-Hour film competitions, and presenting Murder Mystery evenings which rely heavily on performance and visual art.

I find the art work of Michael Smithers, Viv Baty and even my offsider John Sargeant, among others, very stimulating, as well as of value. But, of course, being local, they receive no recognition from the art-snob community here. I attend every Taranaki Arts Festival, have attended the last two Womads, and love the stone-carving symposium. In fact, I did once put in a submission to the draft annual plan to have several pieces bought each time and placed around the city streets to make us the stone- carving capital, but I forgot that the submission process is only a pretence at listening.

What I do object to is that minuscule section of the arts that is exhibited at GBAG at significant and ever- increasing cost to the ratepayers.

When I first began following the annual cost of GBAG in 1999 it was $800,000. That has now risen to nearly $3 million. In that same time the admission price has increased 100 fold, from nothing to nothing.

I've heard all the namby-pamby reasons why the art snobs don't want to charge entry, but the simple answer is that it will give an accurate figure of those using the facility, or as I prefer to say, not using the facility.

I will be holidaying in Europe next year, and my first stop will be in Spain, where I will be seeing the works of two of the greatest artists in Spain. First, I will be going to Camp Nou stadium to watch Lionel Messi perform his artistic feats for Barcelona, and then I will be going to several Dali museums to see the fantastic works of an artist who is certainly known and exhibited worldwide.

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I also expect to pay to see both, and I do not expect it to be a peppercorn entry fee. If I want to see something of value, I expect to pay to see it; that is, if I am able to get tickets to either.

Interestingly, Salvador Dali was born in 1904 and died in 1989; Len Lye was born in 1901 and died in 1980. There the similarity ends. While some will attempt to compare Len Lye to Michaelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci, I am sure that many of the children made to go to GBAG will say that Len Lye was nothing like any of the teenage mutant ninja turtles.

If the Len Lye Centre or GBAG were really of the sort of value some would have us believe, they would not struggle for funds for building or running them.

Also, who knows what the true cost for the new centre will be, because that $10 million figure is now six years old, and earthquakes plus inflation will have at least doubled that figure.

When the stainless-steel Len Lye Centre is finally built, and it will be built, because the few have decided, it will surely become known as the Len Lye Urinal, because let's face it, when it comes to internationally known artists someone is taking the . . .

Contemporary art?

A con certainly, but it's been far from temporary.

Morris West is a well-known New Plymouth identity and columnist who has written often in support of entry charges for Govett-Brewster and against public funding of the arts.

- Taranaki Daily News

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