New Horses in the Stable
By Mark Amery
Dealer galleries tend to take two different approaches to introducing new artists to their stables of represented artists.
The first is to treat an artists’ first showing as they do each that follows - and that is to book them annually or so that one true symbol of faith in them, a solo exhibition of new work. Here the art dealer stakes their reputation on their belief in an artist. Their action is one of leading the market rather than following it, and consequently a great deal of kudos may (or may not) develop around their ability to pick winners. The artists meanwhile need to be able to fill an entire gallery, rather than just present the odd appealing work.
It’s a significant vote of confidence when a gallery takes on an artist like this. An established gallery may not have the space to take on more than one or two new artists a year. It was such the case when Liz Maw got first shown by Peter McLeavey (currently having her third exhibition), and Bowen Galleries show such faith in showing for the first time Kathy Barry currently.
There are younger dealers like Mary Newton following this model, and just this month a new dealer has turned up in town, Robert Heald (based in Left Bank off Cuba Street). He opens with a 2005 ELAM graduate getting his first dealer gallery solo show proper, Patrick Lundberg.
More common these days perhaps is the second approach, the group show. This sometimes leads to a gallery getting accused of hoovering up new artists. Dealers spread their bets whilst still getting lots of artists’ loyalty (against other dealers’ interest), but it ultimately leads to lots of Dear John letters down the line (or worse a lack of clarity for artists as to where they stand). The dealers are spreading their love and attention thinner, and their personal passion for the work is less easy to trust.
Yet the reason this is more common is there’s simply more artists around to show, and why not present those you like? It’s hard to argue against the red pins dotting the walls of Page Blackie’s current group exhibition of 12 mostly emerging artists. For a gallery that exhibits a lot of well-established artists this is a significant occurrence.
The show is a mixed bag of the good, great and merely interesting, but its consistently engaging. There is one calculated call straight to the art market: it’s great to see original artwork from Dylan Horrocks’ Hickville up for sale but he’s an established artist in this company and Horrocks’ curating a show of original artwork of his contemporaries would be far more vital.
Amongst a grab bag of diverse approaches and media, the one standout work for me is Tim Thatcher’s painting Path. While I find the smaller works here to be smudged twee empty stage sets, Path has a sense of purpose. A snake of tiles and veneer unpacks from a magic box of twisted dimensional industrial and design fragments, as if it were some modernist spiritualist’s funeral pyre. A tornado before a Turner-esque ocean and sky. It speaks to our troubled relationship with the our materialism, echoed in the strewn and ragged approach to filling out with painting the canvas.
Thatcher’s interest in flipping around the vocabulary of interior design and furnishing speaks nicely to that of Malcolm Terry, whose Bathroom Spacies also presents an interesting dimensional painting game, but doesn’t achieve much beyond that. Far more satisfying is Terry’s Playground. Through projected planes, squiggles and colour wheels the vocabulary of abstraction is brought into a Bill Hammond like landscape above an open book, that nods to work’s litany of references and the artist as well-read.
I also like what I thought he strongest work in an otherwise mediocre show at Enjoy last year by Max Bellamy. In this diorama small male suited figures do deals before three gold-framed tiny screens that flash scenes from movie and art history, like a Barbara Kruger flick book. Bellamy’s comment on art as background consumption and entertainment leaves little for the imagination but is nonetheless clever.
Other interesting works for me lacked complexion. Samuel Eng’s Dali-esque wall trophy of gargantuan crab pincers was cute to grapple with but didn’t take me anywhere, likewise Ed Lust’s instruments made out of found materials that accompany his Boyd Webb like panoramic photograph.
Nevertheless, from the appealing Hamish Palmer window work at the front of gallery to the documentation of Andrew Kennedy’s plane-spotting at Auckland airport at the back, this is an interesting snapshot of how emerging art practise might be represented by a dealer. It will be interesting to see how many graduate to solo exhibition with Page Blackie stable or elsewhere in the long term.
Group Show, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington, until 22 May