In Havana, Cuba, there’s this place called The Art Factory. It’s an amazing re-purposed space featuring live performances, readings, bands, art exhibits, screenings, dances, and food and drink—all at once.
There’s a two dollar cover charge and a thirty minute line-up to get in on a Wednesday night.
Why isn’t there a line-up outside The Rooms? Why isn’t it as bustling as it could, and should be?
The Rooms has, well, too much room, and not enough art of any kind. It needs more installations, drawings, paintings, music, readings, book launches, performances. It needs more everything.
People go to galleries for art. But most people I know (both artists and art-appreciators), go to The Rooms for opening receptions, on free night, and for a scattered special event. Last time I visited, there was almost an equal number of employees to self-conscious visitors.
Inside is a perfect example of how The Rooms is working (or not). There’s a skinny hall with portraits of famous Newfoundlanders. On the opposite side are rectangles, each the same dimension as its respective portrait. Inside these are facts about the person.
Sure, it’s nifty. But it’s hard to contemplate both at the same time, and people get stranded, floundering in the middle of the room. And those rectangles (literally) outline the emptiness of the walls.
The space, at least in part, needs to be subdivided to make it suitable for a wide variety of frequently rotating exhibits. The floors can be used for performances, or dance. Or theatre skits, or plinths. Statues. Anything.
The Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, New Brunswick (yes, even New Brunswick, who recently decapitated their provincial arts board) has art arranged salon-style, so works cover the walls from floor to ceiling.
What The Rooms is already doing, it’s doing right. The Elbow Rooms residency is a great support of emerging artists. The museum is well designed, with its mock clapboard and diverse array of artifacts. But even that section lacks a tactile experience that could bring the place to life. Why isn’t there a spinning wheel, an old trunk, or a scrap of sealskin that people can touch? The Rooms has piles of that stuff.
Speaking of: it’s nuts, squirreling away all those historical and artistic gems. There’s lots of displays begging to be made with material they already have.
Also, why can’t people bring drinks into the galleries? I’m sure it involves security and insurance reasons, but most places allow people to wander around with hors d’oeuvres—and I’ve yet to see an outraged guest fling a glass of champagne onto art.
As the province’s premier gallery, The Rooms has a responsibility to provide a comprehensive range of art-related experiences and exhibitions. It should support and stimulate more ideas and discussions and careers. Right now, it’s supporting…well, mostly, The Rooms.
Everyone understands that its structure is designed to invoke architectural shock-and-awe. But that still resonates even if the building is filled with stuff other than itself.