Signs of changing times for Gold Coast City Gallery: review

Hundreds of people swarmed The Arts Centre Gold Coast for the opening night of the Gallery’s Signs of the Time exhibition last weekend.

The hordes of people drawn to the exhibition focused on street art and culture is not just testament to the quality of art exhibited – much of which came from the private collection of Ken McGregor – but also to the Gallery’s willingness to push artistic boundaries.

This exhibition blurs the lines between street art and street culture. From the commissioning of mural artists to sort out its drab storage sheds through to the installation of fine sculptures by Leonie Rhodes on the terrace. From the addition of amazing local artists and their interpretation of the theme in the gallery foyer through to the inclusion of live punk rock, skate videography and live art battles through the precinct – this exhibition was always going to appeal to a new demographic.

And appeal it did. Mingling with the crowd on opening night made me realise that the vast majority of visitors had never been to the Art Gallery before. For an opening night to attract many hundreds of people – and most of them new visitors – is an accomplishment in itself.

Just prior to the exhibition opening, the gallery hosted a panel discussion which included Ken McGregor, alongside Gallery Director Tracy Cooper-Lavery, artist Luke Cornish (ELK), collector and owner of ArtFido Juan Garcia and VNA editor and owner Roland Henry.

there is now a general appreciation for the fact that there are practitioners out there on the street whose art might be illegal but is far from pure vandalism

The panel was significant, not just for its insights into street art and the role it plays in both documenting and advancing society but also because some of the audience comprised decision makers from within The Arts Centre and the Gallery itself as well as those who are ‘patrons’ of the local art scene.

Fast forward an hour when the exhibition opened proper and you could see gallery director Tracy Cooper-Lavery’s elation at the crowd that had built… a queue in fact, to get into the exhibition. While out on the terrace, there were hundreds of people enjoying the vinyl DJ, food truck and bar.

Photo: Peter Wheeler Photography

Photo: Peter Wheeler Photography

The exhibition itself has brought some of the world’s best (and most transferable) street art to the Gold Coast. Many of the artists that feature have made the transition from the street to gallery and private collections and staff are quick to point out that all of the artworks displayed were acquired legally through commercial galleries. Because while authorities with zero-tolerance policies are quick to remove illegal ‘graffiti’, in other cities you have the challenge of people illegally removing works of street art for commercial gain.

As Tate curator Cedar Lewisohn observed in 2008, “there is now a general appreciation for the fact that there are practitioners out there on the street whose art might be illegal but is far from pure vandalism.”

Sculpture by Leonie Rhodes. Photo by Peter Wheeler Photography

Sculpture by Leonie Rhodes. Photo by Peter Wheeler Photography

Some of the works on exhibit have never appeared on the street but are an extension of an artist’s street practice. You’ll see pieces by Europe-based A1ONE – one of the first artists to spray paint walls to express artistic vision in the Middle East and Bambi – otherwise known as the female Banksy and whose identity is still a mystery. There are four pieces by Banksy and seven by Blek le Rat – a pioneer stencil artist influenced by Banksy as well as graffiti he saw in New York in 1971.

There’s plenty of reflection on conflict and war, plenty of stories of incarceration for graffiti and many artists capturing times and places in ways they’ve never been captured.

Signs of the Time is a triumph for Gold Coast City Gallery. Not just because of the quality of the exhibition itself but for the bold step it’s taken in this direction and the clear message it sends about the new Cultural Precinct and an Arts Centre that has come of age.

Signs of the Time, Gold Coast City Gallery

Signs of the Time runs until 9 April 2017 and there are a heap of events which form part of the program (skate videography, live music, street parties, hands-on art workshops and more). Get the full program at theartscentregc.com.au.

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