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, November 5, 2009

International group show at Lett

Angels & Demons
Michael Lett
14 October - 21 November 2009

Ten artists make up this group concoction at Michael Lett’s. As some of them, being based in Europe or the States, are rarely shown in this part of the world, one would expect it to be memorable – but not so. A lot of the painting is peppered with references to modernist painting styles like those of analytic cubism (Hansjoerg Dobliar), Warhol and Basquiat (Chris Lipomi), or Larry Poons' poured paintings (John Armleder). While these art historical references are very knowing, many of the resulting images are not fresh. They don’t really add up to much despite the layering. They seem dry, tired and bookish.

Others are livelier because of their anger (like Manuel Ocampo’s scathing caricature of an Inland Revenue official) or adolescent shock tactics - Matthew Griffin has a turdlike waffle floating (but now disintegrating) in a bucket of water. A lot of it is forgettable.

The three artists who have created something that lingers in the mind are Dan Arps, Mike Parr and Jim Allen. Arps’ The Dark Times, made with what seems to be a photograph drawn over and smeared with acrylic umber and viscous resin, is beautifully ambiguous in its dark muddy confusion. It could be a doorway in a building, could be a newspaper title-face, might be a modernist mausoleum. The streaky image is graphically compelling and mysterious.

Down by the gallery entrance, Mike Parr’s three c-type photographs, based on films documenting some of his excruciating performances of thirty-seven years ago, still have impact – even when put in a row high up near the ceiling. Paul McCarthy’s performances, made around the same time as Parr’s, and videoed, also involve confrontational activities using his body parts - and body fluids too. These Black and White Tapes, were screened on Wednesday night.

In the front entrance by the big window, Jim Allen’s sculpture has an advantage by being isolated from the rest of the exhibition which is bizarrely hung and organised in strange clusters. His work shows a male puppet head on a stand looking at a music stand on which is played a large clumped lock of curly hair, nestling between open folds of two, thin, crinkled wax sheets. Behind the hair is a thin palm tree trunk in a narrow glass vase. From it are suspended various tinted photocopies of illustrated internal organs and viscera.

My theory is that the work is an ironic meditation on Courbet’s The Origin of The World. Hetero male sexual voyeurism (or desire for a fetish substitute) is mischievously conflated with musical pleasure, while the unseen bodily mechanics of a living female person are backgrounded, despite being inseparable from the genitals. As is usual with Jim Allen’s practice, the work invites speculation. It is the highlight of a largely humdrum show.


John Hurrell said...

Technical hitch here... For some reason Martyn's comment hasn't appeared. He asks (quite reasonably) why no mention of Sam Rountree's paintings?

The reason is I've commented on Sam's paintings on at last three occasions at ACFA (2 group shows) and Newcall (one solo), and can't really add further to what I've said already. The 'clam' work at Lett is similar to a work I saw at ACFA in August, which I think in a small group show was quite interesting through its subtle colouration, not through its unresolved spatially, sprayed contours. His best work (that I've seen) was on Tony Green's website and in the 2008 Trust Waikato National Contemporary Art Award.

Overall I don't think he is a particularly interesting painter.However I'd be delighted for anyone with contrary views (yourself perhaps?) to express them here, and tell me why I might be wrong.

Unknown said...

Sam Round Tree William's paintings seem to miss a formal acuity or sensitivity. What makes otherwise forgivably bland paintings somehow bothering is the persistance in which a usually sophomoric an appendaged contextualism is in tow, and his mystifying insertion into the coterie of contemporary critical painting.

John Hurrell said...

Movement in the art world is oftem lubricated by charm and its accessory,'sophormoric and appendaged contextualism' - without appropriate physical back up (in my view). I was amazed at the forum he cleverly organised around his work at Newcall, and the outrageous things said in support of it by Wystan Curnow and Richard Fahey.It was an immensely interesting afternoon, and wonderful to hear those guys contribute - but for my money, on that occasion, they weren't talking any sense.

patrick said...

What the hell John? Did your "critical" standards just slip? Are you talking about Sam or the paintings now? Since when did it become your prerogative to implicate people in activities and acts in which they take no part (as if others liked his work simply due to some kind of charm offensive)?

John Hurrell said...

I don't think you are being realistic Patrick. Putting Sam and his painting aside, do you really think the art world in general is somehow pure, and that dealers, curators and directors are not swayed by personalities, but only the work? I wish I could believe that. Sorry, I think there is far more evidence for the opposite.

patrick said...

Not at all John. It is however not your job to level these kinds of accusations at specific individuals. That is gossip mongering not criticism.

John Hurrell said...

Mmm..this is interesting.

How can it be gossip? I am not being malicious and I am referring to something widespread in the art community, a common 'human' occurance that everybody knows about and which is often seen as showing good 'art professionalism' - necessary for career advancement.

You are trying to limit the conversation so it stays within certain delicate explanations that ignore obvious social processes. While it might be insensitive to say what I did so bluntly, its characteristics apply to most fields of endeavour. There is nothing earth shattering about it.

patrick said...

I'm fine with you discussing these issues. My discomfort lies with you utilizing an individual as an example. That is where you became malicious.

John Hurrell said...

The trouble is that if you say something critical or negativwe about an artist's work, some people will always claim you are malicious.If you worried about that you wouldn't say anything. You'd praise everything instead.

I think you regard my discussion as ad hominem. However I was building on Elliot's discussion of contextualization, of which it plays a part.

Your comments though certainly did surprise me. Never thought there was anything personal in what I said. I suspect you are being overly protective of Sam, but then, it is not for me to say.

patrick said...

You are deliberately mixing up the point. You went way beyond criticizing the work when you negatively reduced it to careerism. A fact that you and your interpretative methodologies can neither confirm nor deny.

It certainly isn't for you to say John, but funny that you say it anyway. I haven't read this kind of thing in print from you before. However should I see it again I will happily call you up on it. This is criticism of your criticism.

John Hurrell said...

I appreciate the value of this forthright exchange, but I am concerned that I am perceived as being personal. Certainly that is not intended. I am talking about strategies and they are up for public scrutiny - like art itself.

I would like to hear supporters of the work in question argue a case for it.