Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Temple Gallery

This quirky gallery is one of many hidden treasures in the arty southern city of Dunedin, where the weather is so crap it's a great place to work without distraction on your sculpture or your novel or your screenplay, your painting, your poetry etc. Cold weather spurs creativity? Is it true? Anyway this belief is one of the ways we console ourselves here where the winters are always bitter but so too, often enough, are the summers.

The Temple Gallery was originally a Jewish Synagogue. The architect was William Clayton, who designed another of Dunedin's lovely houses of God, the Anglican All Saints Church on Cumberland Street (1865). I went to that All Saints Church last year for the first time, to attend the funeral of a elderly friend, a well known and respected left wing author. There's a certain comfort in gathering to mourn in such a pleasing aesthetic environment, even if you're not particularly religious. Well, that is how I feel. But I love the holy and the solemn, it must be my Catholic background. The fine church felt like a fitting place to farewell a treasured and honoured member of the arts community.

Art galleries are a lot like churches, aren't they. Often they too are vaulted towards the sky. They're cavernously larger than most of us would dare to make our living environments. We behave circumspectly in galleries too. We're respectful, we're meditative, and quiet, we bow towards the works, and circle them reverently and take care not to touch or to approach too closely. Even if we're not converts to the sect or the denomination on display, we're generally quietly tolerant and civil (at the time anyway). And if we're lucky enough to be invited to the opening, we nibble on crackers and sip red wine.

Building began on Dunedin's first Synagogue in 1864, and it was consecrated in 1865. By 1881 the congregation had grown and so moved into a larger synagogue that was constructed nearby. In the same year the building that is now the Temple Gallery began its life as a Masonic Lodge. The structure was extended and altered - in a 'Romanesque' style -  but with the original synagogue still at its heart.

The freemasons sold their former Lodge into private hands in 1992 and it has since housed apartments as well as the marvellously distinctive art gallery with its mysterious steep garden pathway rising in a zigzag from Moray Place up to the sheer edifice of the Temple.

I visited the gallery recently to check out the latest facinating exhibition: 'Poisons' by Martin Sullivan (see ODT review by James Dignan). A most enjoyable mix of genres, wooden carvings, castings, bird bones and found objects; the placing of the displays using the atmosphere of the gallery well to create a sacred/secular - or is that scared/secular - space of myth and nightmare memory.

Construction details and dates drawn from a flyer written by art historian Peter Entwistle and available at the Gallery.


Belle said...

Interesting post. I love visiting art galleries. The one I used to go to in Vancouver was a beautiful building with a domed ceiling.

Isabel Doyle said...

I am intrigued by your linking the art space to a place of worship - very perceptive!

best wishes Isabel x