What did I miss?

Meg Rollandi - Rinse and Repeat at 30 Upstairs
'A flaw of the annual wrap-up is the assumption that the writer has seen if not everything, the lion’s share.' Mark Amery on what he saw, and didn’t in 2014 in the visual arts.

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Mark Amery on what he saw, and didn’t in 2014 in the visual arts.

A flaw of the annual wrap-up is the assumption that the writer has seen if not everything, the lion’s share. Not this year I’m afraid. With a focus on my time in Wellington and fleeting but rich visits to Auckland, this column is dedicated to both seeing and not seeing, those things observed and those things missed.

On Buildings

Te Uru Gallery in Titirangi

I’ve yet to visit the Sarjeant Gallery’s temporary set up on the Whanganui riverfront while the grand old gallery on the hill is redeveloped. Yet to set eyes on the stainless steel pleated skirt of the Len Lye Centre, under construction in New Plymouth. However, in Auckland where recent investment in public galleries outside the CBD is bringing welcome diversity, I did recently visit the new Te Uru Gallery in Titirangi. It’s a vertically stacked honeycomb of small gallery spaces, with views both between them and across the stunning tree canopy to the Manukau Harbour. Te Uru provides a terrific, light-filled spatial experience, both intimate for the art and in touch with its surroundings.

On the Web

This month Dunedin looks like it was host to one of the dealer gallery shows of the year – startling new Kushana Bush group figure paintings at Brett McDowell Gallery. I know about the Kushana Bush, of course, because it’s never been easier to be an armchair grazer. The jpegs and rapturous response are here at Eyecontactsite.com. In Auckland, traffic may be avoided by encountering openings online through the sharp social lens of Sait Akkirman at Artsdiary.  Online, commentary and social sharing continue to grow. There are now many different ways of seeing. If only one – the actual experience – really stacks up.  

Sometimes the experience is made for online. There’s been a lack of attention in New Zealand to the web as exhibition space – when it has been used, its been used badly. Check out then the recently launched Daniel Satele curated Tautai exhibition Drowned World of a small selection of Pacific Island art students. Tightly, smartly curated as a group show in diverse media around our relationship to of water, the clean but dynamic web design provides a strong container. Attention has been played in the development of the work to the web context, its formats and forms.

Also of note the web presentation of aspects of Lisa Reihana’s In Pursuit of Venus, a 20 metre-long three metre-high video work, recently shortlisted for the Singapore Art Prize. It ‘looks’ magnificent, but we have yet to actually experience the physical work.

Time and Place

Laura, Lucy, Mark and Felix by Kate Newby

It’s never been easier to actually miss the experience. This year saw a marked increase in projects that were all about their location in a specific place and time, and often also the relationships between people. Art walks, happenings and encounters are on the rise. This is very welcome. There’s increasing consideration of the subtleties of context as part of a work’s makeup, and how actions might relate to communities new to contemporary art practice.    

Then there's the pain of missing them. Just this week I was really looking forward to seeing an installation by Kate Newby organised by new outfit Modelab (co-helmed by former Enjoy curator Claudia Aroqueta), where objects are placed just above the tideline. The work was viewable for an hour over seven evenings. The one evening I could make it I turned up late, enjoying instead a moment to myself on the rocks.     

In Auckland there's been a particularly marked increase in this kind of work. Te Tuhi have just farewelled James McCarthy, who as Director with curator Bruce E Phillips has enabled a rich city-connected programme, most recently Other Waters: Art on the Manukau. Other programmes of note in this area have included the event series Pop, created by Altgroup under the initiation of the Waitemata Local Board, and the Whau Arts Festival in October.

Art and Society

There’s been strong growth in the role of the gallery and the artist in engaging with social policy and politics. That was evident in the selection of finalists for the Walters Prize, handled beautifully as an exhibition by curator Stephen Cleland at Auckland Art Gallery. It was a quick jump in thematic logic from the performances around the gallery of Kalisolaite ‘Uhila and eventual winner Luke Willis Thompson to AUT St Paul Street Gallery’s programme in 2014. It included exhibitions on Social Housing, the touring Wellington Media Collective show and Mercedes Vicente’s Art and Social Change Research Project (also at Christchurch’s The Physics Room).

Performance

Meg Rollandi - Rinse and Repeat at 30 Upstairs

Meg Rollandi - Rinse and Repeat at 30 Upstairs

As well as featuring in every other exhibition in an artist run or project space, there have also been some focused looks at performance art in 2014. At Auckland’s Artspace curatorial assistant Amelia Hitchcock curated a performance series, To and Fro, with artists from around the country, and to much interest veteran Jim Allen recreated two of his solo ‘70s performance works,  News and On Planting a Native. News was also performed by Mark Harvey at Ramp Gallery in Hamilton in collaboration with Allen.

In Wellington Performance Arcade have recently curated a daily performance series at 30 Upstairs. I enjoyed popping in there on Erica Sklenars’ studio where she was busy glitching herself into notable scenes from Romcom movies. I loved how her appearance at poignant moments of encounter created a wide-eyed openness and fragility that was both comic and critical of the fantasies these films pedal, but also created in her performance the potential for taking charge and making change. The next week I popped in for Meg Rollandi’s Rinse and Repeat. In this piece performers cover themselves in makeup and then take a shower, the water recycled for the next performer. I arrived at the wrong time - in between performers - to a pool of very greasy brown water.

Enter the Applied Arts

From Isobel Thom and Tessa Laird in Freedom Farmers at Auckland Art Gallery to Lauren Winstone’s excellent first solo at Two Rooms in Auckland, it’s been a year in which ceramics has asserted its place in the contemporary space. In Wellington the Dowse have continued to lead and Slipcast was a strong survey of recent practice.  

The Dowse also hosted Warwick Freeman and Karl Fritch’s inventive and wide-ranging look at jewellery and adornment, Wunderruma. An artist from that exhibition Amelia Pascoe held one of the exhibitions in Wellington I wish I hadn’t missed: Principia at Bowen Galleries. What I did see and was struck by recently was Pascoe’s contribution to the first Handshake mentoring programme exhibition at Toi Poneke. Turned inside out, reconstructed old Royal New Zealand Ballet shoes have their layers of newspaper and threads revealed. Struggling with being on pointe, some are like elegant but crumpled dead birds, while in others the seams of rich stories from exhausted dancers feet are opened out.   

The Wellington private gallery scene

Peter Robinsons 'Diversions' - at Peter McLeavey Gallery

Peter Robinsons 'Diversions' - at Peter McLeavey Gallery

Olivia McLeavey shook the dealer scene up gently with the introduction of a pop-up big window gallery in Webb Street - a lively programme of artists both old and new to the stable. The space was whetted previously by its use by new ‘moving’ gallery Elbowroom (this month they’ve been elsewhere with Concoction cleverly exploring the relationship between art, design and food).

And yet, it was another in a long line of Peter Robinson shows breaking sculptural and installation expectations in the McLeavey Cuba Street chambers that I adored. Full of smart visual play with colour and shape, Diversions sees Robinson game-playing richly with pop-out components from felt mats. Demonstrating a range of strategies on the wall and floor, buyers can then work out their own with the pieces at home. In its play of arrangements the work encourages thinking about breaking the different codes we live and organise our lives by.

The McLeavey pop-up, Elbowroom, and the likes of The Young and 30 Upstairs are recent signs of how the private exhibition model in Wellington continues to loosen. Up on Mount Victoria I didn’t get to see everything at The Young (making do at times with a lively Facebook feed of installation shots) but what diversity of new practice I did see, made it a rewarding house to visit. Favorites’ included the paintings of Peter Gouge and collages and mobiles of Rob Cherry.

Work that has particularly stayed with me from a dealer this year: John Ward Knox’s paintings at Robert Heald, along with being. Eloquent but minimal gestural marks on silk, displaying a beautiful, breezy lightness of touch.

John Ward Knox’s paintings at Robert Heald, 'along with being'.

John Ward Knox’s paintings at Robert Heald, 'along with being'.

The Public Gallery

Peter Wareings 'Stuggorings and Fijetterings' - at Enjoy Gallery

Peter Wareings 'Stuggorings and Fijetterings' - at Enjoy Gallery

More welcome, smart loosening of existing models: it took awhile coming, but City Gallery Wellington’s programme leapt to new international life with a roar on Senior Curator Robert Leonard’s arrival. Work constantly asked interesting questions of our culture and cultural history with new forms. The Simon Starling survey was a flawed stunner, the culturally-charged photography of Viviane Sassen were put beautifully in context and Grant Steven‘s moving image work Supermassive, with its moving cosmic clusters of words was a wonder. It didn’t all work for me of course (the dullness of Chris Marker’s Owls at Noon Prelude and Cerith Wyn Evans’ installation) but giving a strong curator bold creative reign is to be applauded. Now the entire gallery has boldly, and rather successfully been given over to the work of Yvonne Todd for the summer.

The public galleries have generally had strong, welcome verve in Wellington in 2014. Boldness was also all for the good at the Adam, from the overblown but fascinating Denny Kim Dotcom show to the confused but never dull Cinema and Painting. In the middle was the most beautiful install of the year, Kim Pieters’ What is a life. Pieter’s abstraction on hardboard and her videos sang with the architecture as one exquisite spatial composition. Also very strong: Hito Steyerl and Eddie Clemens. And special nod to the touching excerpt with a donkey Shannon Te Ao showed from his Sydney Biennale work at the Working The Gap writing symposium in August - I’m looking forward to seeing the full thing.  

Also noteworthy for its beauty at the Dowse: the Peter Peryer survey A Careful Eye. Images talked together in musical clusters, emphasising the sustained care Peryer has had in finding and framing the small potent gestures in the world around us for decades.

A strong year at Enjoy Gallery. My highlight: Stuggorings and Fijetterings by Peter Wareing. A two channel video work where, on the left are playfully edited scenes from a 1966 Passolini film The Hawks and the Sparrows in which two friars dance and holler, communicating with the birds, while on the right, artist Eugene Kreisler in the streets of New Plymouth tries out all manner of absurd movements and games with the viewer. The work relishes editing communication into a sensory and bodily performance.  

An honourable mention at Enjoy also to the powerful resonance of the melting coconut oil and sand Tagaloa figures by Paula Schaafhausen.

History through Photography

The interest in art in all things social was also apparent in Wellington in projects that re-presented historic photography - breaking down demarcations between the amateur and professional, commercial and fine art. Graham Wilton and Michael Bajko exhibited at Photospace photographs they took as schoolboys at the Onslow College Sports Day in 1967, joyous free images that demonstrated their keen natural eye.

In a beautiful book published by Auckland University Press and exhibition at Mahara Gallery Kerry Hines with Young Country presented the late 19th century photography of William Williams, alongside her own verse, capturing the raw oddness and theatricality of ordinary life for new settlers in New Zealand.  

            

Kerry Hines with Young Country presented the late 19th century photography of William Williams.

Written by

Mark Amery

17 Dec 2014

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media.

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