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Beauticians, Socialites, Vegans and Christians: Yvonne Todd

This summer, City Gallery will host the largest exhibition to date by award-winning photographer Yvonne Todd. It’s the first time the entire gallery has been devoted to just one artist. Creamy Psychol


This summer, City Gallery will host the largest exhibition to date by award-winning photographer Yvonne Todd. It’s the first time the entire gallery has been devoted to just one artist. Creamy Psychology, curated by Robert Leonard, includes around 150 images made since the 1990s. From beauticians to buildings, corporates to cults - the breadth of Creamy Psychology aims to radically expand our understanding of Todd’s work.
Todd draws on the generic language of studio photography, yet her images are always off-kilter. Leonard says, “These portraits are typically highly styled, using wigs, costumes, makeup, and even false teeth. Many Todd women seem to suffer from some soap-operatic malaise, explicit or implicit, be they cosmeticians, cripples, modest Christians, anorexics, cult members, showgirls or tragic heiresses. Her work has a complex relation with feminism.”

Todd draws on inspiration from her formative years – teen fiction, soap operas and a stint as a commercial photographer (weddings were a speciality). Todd says, “My favourite author when I was twelve or thirteen, Virginia Andrews, wrote gothic tales of beautiful teenage girls involuntarily corrupted by perverse ancestral legacies. The artwork of the books added to this intrigue... like Hallmark sympathy cards, these possessed a combination of limp serenity and shrill unease.”

Todd blames her obsession with costume on her ordinary upbringing on Auckland’s North Shore, “I was starved of glamour as a child; my parents are both accountants and when I grew up there was lots of discussion in our house about tax. I found escape from this dreary topic in TV shows like The Love Boat, Falcon Crest and televised beauty pageants.”

There are links to Hollywood with a display of Todd’s own vintage designer gowns that feature in the images, including an exquisitely beaded gown by Bob Mackie, once owned by Whitney Houston. There’ll also be photographs by other artists who are reference points for Todd, including Diane Arbus, Bernd and Hilla Becher and Mike Disfarmer, and a selection of vintage photos by her second cousin, Matamata community photographer Gilbert Melrose, reprinted by Todd. The show ends with a new series, and largest so far, Ethical Minorities (Vegans) – seventeen images documenting members of this vegetarian subculture.

A lavishly illustrated book of the same name will accompany the exhibition.  Published by Victoria University Press, with support from Creative New Zealand, it features contributions from Todd, Auckland University’s Misha Kavka (on Todd and daytime TV), art critic Megan Dunn (Todd and anorexia), Leonard (on cults), Te Papa curator Claire Regnault (Todd and costume  and art critic Anthony Byrt (the Gilbert Melrose project).

Yvonne Todd was born in 1973 in Takapuna, Auckland. She studied professional photography at Unitec in the mid-1990s and completed her BFA at Elam School of Fine Arts in 2001. Her final-year submission at Elam, Asthma & Eczema, won her the inaugural Walters Prize in 2002, catapulting her to national recognition. Awarding the prize, judge Harald Szeemann said Todd’s was ‘the work that irritated me the most’.  In 2004, writer Anthony Byrt described her as ‘the best artist of her generation’. Her work has been showcased in numerous exhibitions, nationally and internationally, including Mixed-Up Childhood (2005), High Tide (2006), the 2006 Busan Biennale, Unnerved (2010), the 2010 Sydney Biennale and the 2014 Edinburgh Festival. Todd’s work is held in significant Australasian public museum collections. She is represented by Ivan Anthony Gallery, Auckland; Peter McLeavey Gallery, Wellington; and Ryan Renshaw, Brisbane. 

Image above: Yvonne Todd Amanda 2006

Yvonne Todd: Creamy Psychology
6 December 2014 – 1 March 2015.
City Gallery Wellington | Free Entry|

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Written by

City Gallery Wellington

24 Sep 2014

Interests City Gallery Wellington is a dynamic cultural presence in the capital city of Aotearoa New Zealand.