Season is a new gallery at street level in the shiny new Commercial Bay development in downtown Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. It’s the brainchild of artist Jade Townsend (Ngāti Kahungunu, Te Ātihuanui-a-Pāpārangi) and writer Francis McWhannell. They met after the first Covid lockdowns in 2020 and decided to run an exhibition series. They kept referring to their first ‘season’ and the name stuck.
They knew the first season would be four exhibitions, each featuring two or more artists, but it would be an opening gambit. They kept another possibility up their sleeves: that the second season could take a different form—a lecture series perhaps, or an offsite programme. McWhannell says: “We wanted our first season to be marked by the unexpected. We hoped each show would have surprise elements—combinations of artists and art forms that one might not anticipate, for instance.”
As it turns out, the second season is not unlike the first. The very first exhibition partnered friends Townsend and Neke Moa; the first show of the second season pairs Emily Karaka and Ngahuia Harrison. But the directors are quick to point out that the new programme has its own identity. In the first season, developed during lockdown, they welcomed in artists and thinkers they admired. The second season—which evolved while they were working in the space (not from home), in direct contact with their community—responded to conversations that sometimes found them.
McWhannell says: “From early on, we felt that if we produced a programme that was ambitious, thoughtful, and marked by our perspectives (if not to say our tastes), then we would create the conditions for the gallery to thrive and develop in meaningful ways. It’s doing that. Our collectors are excited to learn what’s coming next. Artists who get the vision see us as a place where brave projects can unfold.”
The Season project might seem odd, even downright confusing. Is it strange for an artist and a writer to become gallerists—dealers?
“Day to day, it’s remarkably easy not to get hung up on such questions,” says McWhannell. “Surely one of the great advantages of living in the present is that boundary blurring is normal. And no region is more accustomed to letting things find their own right shape than the one labelled the art world.”
And why Commercial Bay? “Downtown appealed because a wide range of people pass every day,” McWhannell says. “Jade had a relationship with Commercial Bay, thanks to her Matariki exhibition programme Whānau Mārama, presented there in 2021. Its success both opened the door and strengthened our sense that a gallery in the precinct would appeal—and not only to the art world.”