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.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

DIY heaven

Charles Ninow: Content and Delivery
448 Gallery (448 Karangahape Rd)
28 May - 18 June 2009
11-4 Wed, 2-6 Thurs, 11-4 Sat.

With a sizable chunk of Auckland’s gallery scene lined up on Karangahape Road, it is always interesting when some venues appear there for only a few exhibitions then move on. 448 Gallery, run by Elam students, has presented about five shows - and this Charles Ninow display is its last. A shame because it is located right next door to Gambia Castle and just down the road from Michael Lett and Starkwhite. A brilliant location for a gallery

Last year Ninow was awarded the Henrietta and Lola Anne Tunbridge Watercolour Prize (worth $10000) by AAG’s Senior Curator Ron Brownson, but this show is all sculpture and oils - though the latter involve some incredibly thin glazing. Like fragile washes that are barely detectable.

This exhibition reveals Ninow to be a great loiterer of hardware stores (many artists are), someone who gets blissed out poking around in Bunnings, Mitre 10 or Placemakers. He likes looking at building supplies and industrial products, checking out new materials or methods of joining, examining the units or modules they are sold in to see what can be useful.

Sometimes he just takes them straight off the rack directly to the gallery. How he gets them to or in the gallery is the content. The content becomes the form as altered by the delivery. Hence the show’s title.

A length of soft steel reinforcing rod, to be taken up the stairs to the viewing space, has to rolled up to be manoeuvred there, and then imperfectly straightened out once in the gallery.

Another sculpture is a wooden replica of an iron railing (with brackets) that is measured to fit the traces of a staircase detected in the gallery’s brick walls. Made of pine moulding and many joined extruded sections, it could only be placed in the room by being lifted through the outside first floor window, not via the door and staircase.

One surprising work is a thin bar of dense foam placed on the floor. The yellow material is same sort of spongy substance as the blue foam Peter Robinson used in ACK and his later Walters Prize exhibition, only this material is accompanied by lots of sandy specks sprinkled around it on the dark floor like a halo of filings.

The paintings seem more like exercises. They are less resolved compared to the sculpture, but they have a strange humour. They consist of delicately painted linen off-cuts (small discarded rectangles acquired from Studio Art Supplies) pinned near the top of immaculately framed noticeboards made from standard units of pinboard.

These have a ‘found’ sensitivity, being slightly wonky, hand-cut pieces of linen with gently undulating edges. The nuanced glazes and thin lines suggest Malevichs or spiritually oriented, symbolic abstractions constructed by readymades. The idea for the work comes from examining the hardware materials first, not through starting with a mental concept of idealised geometry.

In this unusual quirky show, the sprawling wooden banister and piece of splinter-clad golden foam have real presence. They are particularly intriguing. However the old brick walls of the space are worth looking at for themselves, outside of the quality of Ninow’s art. Call in while you have the chance. Enjoy both.

Thank you to the artist for the photos.

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