For those of us in Christchurch who love the visual arts, the years since the earthquakes have been somewhat lean – not completely empty but quite a number of the galleries I enjoyed visiting closed while repair or rebuilding was carried out. Many are still not open.

Pre-earthquakes I would regularly visit the Christchurch Art Gallery, COCA, and the Art House on a Sunday afternoon. After the quakes that option was not available, but it did encourage visiting other galleries; mostly small dealer galleries, and also those further afield – Oxford, Darfield, Lincoln, Cheviot etc. The new Ashburton Gallery and Heritage Centre also when it opened last year. Well worth a visit.

Street Art also increased in Christchurch but that is not really my taste. Public sculpture is important in any city (or town) and Christchurch has some new sculptures since the quakes. “Fan Fare” on the northern motorway is impressive; Anthony Gormley’s statue “Stay” in the Avon river is OK, but I was expecting something larger. Not “Angel of the North” perhaps but something bigger than what we got. It is not easy to spot unless you’re walking the river bank.

Darfield Art Week, Christchurch Art Show, and Sculpture on the Peninsula are also important for the dedicated art lover, but nothing can take the place of a civic art gallery. A public art gallery provides things that small dealer galleries cannot.

  1. Space – space for more art and for larger works. I cannot image Michael Parekowhai’s piece “On first looking into Chapmans Homer” fitting into the Liffey Gallery in Lincoln, but it sits nicely in the foyer of the Christchurch Art Gallery.
  2. Touring exhibits – a focus on one artist or perhaps an artistic style such as Impressionism, or Cubism.
  3. Properly curated exhibits – exhibits with extensive background and explanatory information.
  4. Historical collections – that portray the history, not only of artistic movements but also the history of the local area.

So it was with much anticipation that dedicated followers of art welcomed the re-opening of the Christchurch Art Gallery just before Christmas 2015.

The current exhibits are a good mixture of old and new. The comparison of van der Velden and McCahon was interesting and well curated. Hotore, Gimblett and selection of wood cuts also worth seeing. Some exhibits, though, did bring to mind Marshall McLuhan’s famous aphorism – “Art is anything you can get away with.”

Still, that is the great thing about art – there is something for all tastes – you don’t have to like everything. Finally, with COCA due to re-open early this year, it looks like Sunday afternoons will return to the “old normal”.

Guest blogger: John Edgar

NB: By close of play Monday 4th January 2016 40,928 people had passed through the Christchurch Art Gallery's doors since reopening on 19th December 2015.  Read more here