Behaving publicly in private
By Mark Amery
To see an excellent example of how some dealer galleries are increasingly behaving like public ones, cross the road from City Gallery to Page Blackie off Chews Lane.
A sleek, smart operation (just like many of its artists), in this expansive purpose-built gallery you’ll be welcomed by front of house staff to an exhibition featuring 19 significant artists, modern and contemporary.
The exhibition Landscape looks like its had a lot of time spent on its curation, bringing new work by practicing artists in the gallery’s stable together with a spread of older work to explore a spread of approaches to a tried and true theme.
Except of course it’s not quite that simple. However it’s dressed, any dealer gallery show has one core purpose that public institutions distance themselves from – to sell work. With one exception (not surprisingly a Colin McCahon) the older works are here because they’re up for resale, the newer works because the artists want to see them leave their studio. At a dealer gallery the whole exhibition selection is limited by what is available in the marketplace – unlike a public gallery who will look to pick and choose through loans to create the best show possible.
It’s also however - in quite a break with convention - happening currently the other way round at public Enjoy Gallery. They’re showing the work of Ron Dixon before its sold at a local auction house, alongside Don Driver and Maiangi Waitai, who both have regular dealers around the corner.
To bring a show like Landscape quietly together shows how well connected Page Blackie is. Despite its commercial limitations, it’s full of excellent work and a pretty good exploration of its theme.
As a reproduction of a Charles Heaphy painting of Te Aro on a wall in the lane outside reminds you, our landscape tradition was always about commodities. Centuries later it is so again - the rash of red dots on this show proof of how saleable a landscape remains as a place of dreaming in a domestic setting. Landscapes often offer a form of nostalgia, for a place and space we’re not currently within – even the personal abstracted expressions of McCahon, Woollaston, Illingworth and Fomison here now are bathed in an aged golden hue.
They also offer an opportunity for the artist to demonstrate their skills with a field studied with forms within bands of land and weather. Justin Boroughs and Michael Hight offer fine banal examples here that provide much to admire but leave little left to say.
Dick Frizzell’s entire oeuvre could be considered to be about commodities, its packaging and painting’s role within it. His landscapes are among his most loved yet critically questioned, but at their best have been very fresh produce. The large Ranga Ika here unfortunately isn’t one of those, but Two Sheds and a Power Pole – unapologetic and upfront in its nostalgia –is full of great painting. Also upstairs is a beautifully constructed Stanley Palmer. An empty beachside camping ground cast in a soft light, full of elegant line sees, like early Mondrian, the familiar providing structure for spindly abstraction.
A few works do offer fresh takes on the landscape: A gorgeous small, swooping cloud of girders by Neil Dawson that echoes the Blue Willow China landscape pattern; a set of brilliant Andrew Drummond works on paper that in a new refrain on McCahon are both elegant, complex abstract studies of form, and with our mining of the earth’s surface crackle with a charged alchemy between earth and sky.
Two excellent Mark Adams’ photographic works are imbrued with the light of human story, and Star Gossage sees the landscape as full of our life force. Paul Dibble is at his best with his work – a small witty, formally inventive tableau where the ground is a paint palette balancing on the nose of a fish, with a cabbage tree tidied to one side and the ground mown by Kiwi bloke as long suffering ploughman.
Across town another exponent of dealer as public curator is Mark Hutchins Gallery, who puts together cleverly themed exhibitions, accompanied by his own well-written essays. Wellington tragically missed out on Julia Morison’s excellent major survey exhibition from Christchurch Art Gallery, but Hutchins is now presenting a 1990-99 survey of her work in a fortnight – the work for sale naturally.
At Page Blackie and Mark Hutchins curation is the icing on the cake to draw the buyer in. But when it happens to this standard, and in the absence of it happening enough in public galleries, we all have a lot to be grateful to these dealers for.
Landscape, Page Blackie Gallery, until 7 November