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Gloria – The Dame of Wynyard Quarter

After nearly three years on Wynyard Quarter, Gloria Knight is closing its doors. While it seems like a writer’s indulgence, I would like to refer to Gloria as ‘she’. Art Dame of the maritime district, Gloria has earned her persona.

The impulse to personify Gloria isn’t entirely unfounded. In 2013, Gloria Knight presented Werk, a domestic setting perpetrated by the woman herself, Gloria. Initially I was affronted and perturbed by the scene, the artistic caretakers were playing coy and refusing to acknowledge their ruse, “it was Gloria, not us!”. Looking for clues amid the mid-range hotel setting, I found an unmade bed and a towel strewn on the couch. Perhaps she’s still here… maybe in the shower? What a tease, leaving signs of her ease but refusing to grace us with her presence. What a tease… Gloria.

Over the years, this piece of theatrics has warmed on me. Why of-course! Gloria is a woman, much more than four walls and a mailing list; she is the physical incarnation of her founders. As only the dragon balls could summon the dragon, so it must be with Gloria, elegant and sophisticated, she is ultimately dependent on Francis Till, Juliet Carpenter, Henry Davidson, Oscar Enberg, and Henry Babbage. Kudos to them, three years is a long time to do anything if you’re in your early twenties.

So who is Gloria Knight? Judging by Werk she is fastidious, and has a perverse fetish for corporate veneers. She certainly plays by her own rules; neither an artist-run space, nor a dealer, she is perhaps as she claims, a contemporary art gallery. The name itself is a medley of two worlds, Gloria Knight, a fictitious merchant summoned just in time for the art school exodus.

She set herself amongst the Super Yachts, those pre-eminent – and devilish – travellers of global capitalism. While Gloria certainly likes to flaunt her internationale style, don’t be fooled into thinking she’s frivolous. In New Zealand’s protracted struggle between the national and the international, the indigenous and the introduced, looking outward is hardly a passive move. It’s not Gloria’s way to stray into a fight; she’s too sophisticated to be tricked into an art world brawl. Diffusing any tension, Gloria coolly picks up her smartphone and vibers an international line.

While Gloria would never confess it, I once saw her batting lashes with Simon Denny in the Elam Lecture Theatre. The prodigal son offered these words in return; “the artist-run space is a post art-school marketing strategy”. I felt the wind knocked out of me, every romantic notion I’d ever attached to artists autonomy felt squeezed. Damn you Denny! We’re not all cunning and garden parties. But I must confess, as most eventually do, that Denny was onto something. The ‘marketing strategy’ of artist-run spaces has now been synthesized into the broader arts ecology, turned into a conduit between the art school and the dealer. C’est la vie, artist will just have to think harder if they want to antagonize the existing hierarchy.

Contrary to my preference for the profitless, Gloria’s most triumphant moments have also been her most commercial. Participating in the Auckland Art Fair in 2013, and Spring in 2014, Gloria outshone the community of full-time dealers, suckers. It was a powerful moment in which artists distributed themselves, without the middleman. While Gloria might be retiring her Wynyard Headquarters, she has not ruled out a reprisal. Perhaps these theatrical moments of arts economy are where she will continue to play? The art fair desperately needs an innovator.

Gloria will be remembered. The artist-run space has lasted longer than most, transcending the “flash in the pan” status that CNZ consign to the short-lived. Though longevity is not why she will be remembered. The real reason is simple; her founders shared a common perspective on culture, and then articulated it with a rare consistency. I wouldn’t be surprised if art-historians are already circling the corpse, eagerly awaiting ammunition to load their post-internet canon. I just hope they tell the story well. Tales of arts ecology aside, what drives these generally profitless entities is passion and friendship. And on that note, its best not to be too cynical.

Emil Dryburgh

 

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