As Auckland Art Gallery will soon welcome in a bunch of rock'n'roll photojournalists, and the supposedly more avant-garde Artspace is exhibiting New Yorker cartoons, where's the artistic cutting edge gone?
To the suburbs. As well as Te Tuhi in Pakuranga, artist-run spaces are a safe bet for challenging work. So many have sprung up recently that the one-year-old Snake Pit on High St - home of the Gordon's Walters Prize (the winner gets Gordon's gin) - is a famous grandpa in relative terms. The K Rd precinct hosts RM (formerly Room 103), Second Storey and others, but this week I visited three artist-run galleries slightly further afield, all set up in the last few months with full programmes for the rest of the year, but otherwise strikingly different from each other.
White-box gallery Gloria Knight sits in a Wynyard Quarter business complex, but once through the gates, I couldn't find the right unit, and had to phone Oscar Enberg - one of its four young artist founders - to come and fetch me. "Gloria prefers to be discreet," says Enberg, snappily dressed in black with a white wristwatch.
Actually, Gloria doesn't exist. She's an amusing and useful fiction for the founders, who prefer to be known as artists rather than "gallerists" - Enberg tells me the term "dealer" is passe, its connotations of financial transaction too crude. Even so, "Gloria likes commodity": the gallery isn't trying to be alternative, instead all prices are POA. The art mostly engages critically with popular culture, and is often "post-internet, post-digital" - responding to the easy accessibility of information.
While Gloria's inventors had the gallery idea before they had a location, Ferari Space was a location in search of an idea - specifically, a double garage in Grey Lynn beside a house full of artists. The five artists behind the deliberately misspelt Ferari love their Ariki St frontage and the neighbourhood immersion - many locals drop in on Saturdays on their way into town and even when the gallery's closed, there's always art by the high-calibre exhibitors in the garden for passers-by to see.
The garage is mostly whitewalled, but the tin roof and a section of the skeleton have been left exposed, and a massive and beautiful crack runs across the paint-splattered concrete floor. The artists respond and alter their work to suit the unusual environment, says Dawson Clutterbuck, one of the two MFAs (thus far) in the organising group.
Meanwhile, in Mt Eden, a couple of trees on the corner of Dominion and Valley Rds have been "shown some love", garlanded with crochet squares and plastic leis, their roots planted with pansies, as a street-beautifying notification that Monster Valley gallery is upstairs. Diversity is key to the programme here, run by film-maker Karl Sheridan with help from his studio-mate, photographer Laura Forest.
Sheridan also runs an online radio station in the space, which is decorated with retro furniture and a 6m bamboo rod along the wall, from which painters can hang their canvases. Artistic community lives.