Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Unitec show

Kathy Barry / Sarah Munro: and happy the world so made
Snowwhite - Unitec
20 March - 17 April 2009

Here we have two artists, a grid-obsessed watercolourist and a relief sculptor who uses industrial spray-lacquering technology, both using diamond-like polygonal forms to investigate a shallow tray-like space. Kathy Barry dominates the exhibtion with five drawings. They are watercolour on ruled pencil on paper – with some holes cut out and a little paper glued on. There only one Munro work in the gallery: a bright red wall relief with many parts. However she has another, a lime green work in one unit - from a different series - outside in the foyer. Though it seems like an after thought, it is the best thing there.

Despite their interest in a common form Munro and Barry have quite different sensibilities. Barry seems to like symmetry and order that can only be reluctantly disrupted, while Munro prefers asymmetry and lopsided spatial disintegration. Barry uses a very limited palette of synthetic (non earth) transparent colour that alternates hot and cold to code and organise her modules within a larger holding pattern. Munro is more chromatically nuanced. Despite her chosen limitations using saturated sprayed layers applied to planes and edges to optically accentuate her fibreglass and wood forms, what at first glance seems all glossy red, soon becomes various tonally controlled browns, purples, and siennas.

Barry’s best drawings are Wood in the centre of one room, and Everyday Daylight, by itself in another. They let a lot of airy white paper surround the solid, petal-like diamond forms that bisect each 2:3 proportioned, horizontal rectangle, so they float radiantly in a clear interconnecting space. These configurations act as a foil to another finer grid system of much smaller horizontal and vertical strips that is less conspicuous and which flickers like a delicate Piet Mondrian/Rita Angus hybrid, peeking through from behind vertical trickles of green and red watercolour dribbling down from above.

Barry’s other drawings are a bit formulaic and rigid but the two mentioned move towards an attractively causal loosey-goosiness - even a relaxed unpredictability. Having said that, of the two Munros the horizontal, single unit, green work inside the vitrine in the hall is preferable to the meandering ‘wild’ wall work of the gallery. It is compact in its blocklike but curved form, somehow condensed though of little weight, and astonishing in its glowing chroma. It has a steady inner light that draws you back. Delicious colour that is enhanced by the nuances of its sensitive contours. Almost disembodied. A real treat.

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