The Canterbury Society of Arts, 1880-1996 : conformity and dissension revisited
Feeney, Warren F
Established in 1880 the Canterbury Society of Arts (CSA) dominated the arts in Canterbury for nearly a century and was the most significant art society in New Zealand. This thesis examines the CSA's history from 1880 to its change in trading name to the Centre of Contemporary Art (COCA) in 1996 when the Society sought to redefine its role. Chapter One considers its origins, comprising a discussion of the period from 1850 to 1880 in which it was founded as part of an educational complex that reflected Edward Gibbon Wakefield's ideal for the systematic settlement of Canterbury. A discussion of the Society's permanent collection from 1881 to 1932 in the following chapter draws attention to how the CSA was guided by its founding ambitions to promote the development of New Zealand art and accompanying responsibilities for art education. Chapter Three considers the premises and art galleries utilised by the Society from 1881 to 1932, revealing that its objectives to advance the arts remained visionary and often demanding. In Chapter Four the period between the Depression and the end of the Second World War is examined and economic and aesthetic challenges, evident in the Society's limited capacity to purchase works for its collection, alongside the emergence of new art organisations uch as the Group are discussed. This is followed by a consideration of the post-war period from the perspective of the CSA's remarkable secretary from 1943 to 1959, William Sykes Baverstock. His response to an emerging modern movement provides a context to examine significant changes in the arts which initially posed a challenge to the CSA. Consideration of the 1960s to mid-1970s in Chapter Six reveals the vital role played by the CSA in supporting the development of contemporary New Zealand art and includes discussion of significant events and exhibitions such as the Hay's Art Prize and the expansion of the Society's programme to include international shows and solo exhibitions of contemporary sculpture, craft, design, and painting. It argues that these activities represented the CSA's most ambitious and successful period in its history, symbolised by its new modernist-styled gallery which opened at 66 Gloucester Street in 1968. An examination of the late 1970s to mid-1980s in Chapter Seven demonstrates that the CSA continued to maintain its influence as a centre for contemporary arts practice. However, the demands of a greater arts professionalism championed by the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council and accompanied by a growth in dealer galleries, meant that the CSA also became subjected to criticism and this despite its continuing capacity to expose large audiences to new and challenging arts practices. The close and long-standing relationship between the CSA and the Canterbury College School of Art is considered in Chapter Eight and the way in which this contributed to the Society's cultural supremacy is acknowledged. The deaccession of 42 important historical works from the CSA's permanent collection in 1995 discussed in Chapter Nine reveals the extent to which its stature had substantially changed by the 1990s. Its essentially nineteenth-century infrastructure was ultimately inappropriate for addressing new levels of arts professionalism. Chapter Ten concludes that the CSA was a visionary, and sometimes radical, arts organisation that deserves to be more carefully and generously considered. Indeed, its long history reveals a vital arts and educational institution that has made an essential but hitherto hugely underrated contribution to New Zealand's cultural development.
Advisor: Stocker, Mark; Collins, Roger
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Art history and art theory
Research Type: Thesis
Contents: v. 1. [Text] -- v. 2. [Bibliography and catalogue]. Description: 2 v. (v, 373, 311 leaves) ; 30 cm. Notes: Thesis typescript. University of Otago department: Art History and Theory. "University of Otago, 2008". Thesis ( Ph. D. )--University of Otago, 2009. Includes bibliographical references.