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.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Talking Tao









Tao Wells: Space Jam 1996
A drawing and painting sale selected by Nick Austin
Gambia Castle
14 November - 28 November 2009

November is an interesting part of the art year calendar, with many of the main tertiary art institutions around the country briefly presenting public displays of their students’ work. Most of what is shown is invariably inconsequential, work made cloning their teachers or pages of international art mags, or a hybrid. Those few with any substance will become apparent in 3 - 4 years after their paper chase, when they develop strategies of survival, shake the teachers out of their hair, and find their own voices.

In Gambia Castle Tao Well’s show suggests the opposite process, as if his best work is the very early stuff, even before he went to university. Such a premise might be accurate - might even be obviously so if his practice in general is conspicuously unremarkable to start with.

So how can we be persuaded either way? No meritable quality, in my view, is apparent from just looking at the exhibition and unfortunately Nick Austin, the selector of the exhibited work, has no essay advocating its merits. Although he is not listed as curator (only ‘selector’), he is known as an eloquent verbaliser of ideas, one who is exceptionally articulate. A wasted opportunity.

Instead we have Dick Whyte (of Wayfarer Gallery) writing a little introductory text to the show. It is nicely written and in three sections.

The first starts with: Tao Wells is a terrible artist. But he is a good person. This writer is impressively candid it seems, although perhaps too generous about the artist’s personality. Whyte then distinguishes between moral behaviour (externally imposed codes, as with legal or religious injunctions) and ethical (internal and from reflection).

In the second paragraph he puts forward a second definition of ethics in which “we must become adept at talking with ourselves. We are always two, rather than one.” He wants to lead the discussion to the possibility in the third section that Tao Wells is both a terrible artist and a terrific artist. However I can't get that far. For a start I have problems with his use of the word must.

Amongst his many attacks on the notion of prescriptive moral rightness and attempts to systematically provide criteria for it, the British philosopher Bernard Williams claimed that ethical conviction about what one ought to do is not actually a kind of decision (not from a group or from the individual concerned): Ethical conviction, like any other form of being convinced, must have some aspect of passivity to it, must in a sense come to you. (Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, p.169). However this conviction ends up being mixed in with reflection, discussion and theorising to form the individual’s ethical norms.

In other words, one might as well stick with the ‘one mind’ idea that Tao Wells is simply just a terrible artist, especially as there is no articulated evidence here by his Gambia colleagues (or Wellington dealer, Whyte) to counter that, let alone claim he is a ‘terrific artist’ as well or instead. If they are convinced there are arguments for the latter, it might be a good idea for them to elucidate them.

40 comments:

Cheryl Bernstein said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John Hurrell said...

Even before you and I start discussing the content of your missive, I have to deal with your pseudonym, Cheryl/Lara. I'd love to exchange views on the subject you raise, but am forced to trash you. Please resend using your non-blog (family) moniker, and we'll carry on this conversation.

so you tell me said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
so you tell me said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
illbehaviourNZ33 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jerry said...

Yes I'm afraid John your review smacks of pompous vindictiveness...has Tao really upset you so much in the past? Also why havent you posted any photos? (as you do with other reviews), it would be good to see the artwork as I live in Europe. Jeremy Weston.

John Hurrell said...

I will remove blogs from those not providing family names. I've been stating that for a while now. With those examples on this thread, the reasons therefore have had nothing to do with the content of the posts.

Jerry, many thanks for your comment. If my writing is pompous it is because it reflects the support material which it addresses, and which is far more interesting to think about than the art work. The artist asked Dick Whyte to prepare the text and I have responded to that. That is reasonable.

No vindictiveness is intended. Writers choose from shows those aspects that intrigue them, and naturally ignore those that don't. If you want to see Tao's documentation of his own exhibition, click on the link to his blog I have placed over his name.

jerry said...

Dear John (don't you just love that?)....intriguing indeed. I've since seen some images courtesy of Artsbash, and really (even though detail is hard to discerne) the works don't look so uninteresting (as you suggest) not to warrent some reflection on your part. I assume the exhibition is an installation that responds to the space in some way? Why would you bother to review support material and not the exhibition itself...which is a bit like reviewing the labels in an institutional show...or...the next time you're in a cafe and you don't like the art, you decide to review the menu? Hey there's an idea...cafe art reviews.

To me your writing still seems to be a personal stab at Wells (by not mentioning his work)as he seems to be a thorn in your side?

I'm also curious that "Cheryl Bernstein's" comment has been trashed...doesn't she have a blog that you provide a link to?
JW

John Hurrell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Hurrell said...

You need to look at his blog site images Jerry. I agree that Artbash, as you say, has much more interesting images.

With Tao it is all about generating noise, attracting attention. He has developed some ideas first put forward by the late Julian Dashper with his Driver drumkit and installation project. So it is really about promotional strategies and how to get audiences to look your way. Not about any objects that might happen to be in the gallery.

He is not a thorn in my side at all, and I don't think I am in his. He has pasted my review into Artbash so he is obviously very happy to be talked about. After all I could have ignored his show.

I trashed the pseudonym 'Cheryl Bernstein' not the author. If the latter has posted the same comments I'd be happily debating things with her.

November 24, 2009 2:42 PM

David Cauchi said...

It's only been a week, but how'd you say the vigorous enforcement of your naming policy is going at helping the debate along? Unalloyed success?

Andrew said...

Actually, I think that John is getting at the annoying and naive "nouveau vague" tone a some artists and artist-run spaces adopt these days, rather than attacking the artist.
The anarchist posturing is a little tedious for those of us who remember Rik from The Young Ones, and frankly it probably wouldn't hurt for some people to be clearer in their communications for the sake of we plebs.
And as this isn't artbash bitchfest (which has its place), hiding behind a pseudonym is a bit childish in this context.
Andrew Paul Wood

so you tell me said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
so you tell me said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
so you tell me said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
so you tell me said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John Hurrell said...

The point of the trashing, Tao, is nothing to do with what you are saying - only that you are using a pseudonym. Exactly the same with Cheryl at the top of this thread. I genuinely welcome your opinions (both of you) but request you sign in with your family names.

so you tell me said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John Hurrell said...

On at least three threads on this site you have happily used your full name Tao, so the fact you refuse to now, knowing I have to trash you, proves you are only doing it to play 'victim' and draw attention to yourself. You are so transparent.

Interested readers can type your full name into search and see for themselves how insincere you are.

so you tell me said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
so you tell me said...

Any one can click on "so you tell me and see my family name.. tell me what is the difference

so you tell me said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John Hurrell said...

The difference Tao is that I have stated this principle to Cheryl, Giovanni and many others - to please state your full name openly. Normally you have not found this to be a problem, except now of course you like to bang your drum. It suits me to have you being so noisy. Escalates my hit rate.

See you tonight at AUT or Monday at Newcall.

Ron said...

Haven't seen the show and am interested, is Tao a terrible artist or not? How about actually writing about the work. Haven't you just constructed yourself a mirror for you to look in?

I was looking forward to some real criticism but came away disappointed to say the least. What do you consider a terrible artist? What do you consider a good one? And how do you define merit?

If you really don't like him (as a person or an artist) as much as you profess - isn't that an achievement in itself? - please elucidate. Then I could evaluate your merit on a point-by-point basis.

Better luck next time.

Here's my family name: Hanson. I hope that satisfies you.

John Hurrell said...

Why should I write about the work when the curator of the show Nick Austin hasn't bothered, nor has the writer of the essay Dick Whyte.
I found Whyte's essay of more interest (for reasons outside of Wells' display) so I commented on that - it being part of the contextual envelope Wells placed around his practice. He is an incorrigible stuntster, and I regard his claim that his high school art is of public interest a good example of that (what other living artist would have the nerve?), as is his sudden refusal to provide his name at the top of his comments.There are over sixty galleries in Auckland so I could have justifiably ignored the exhibtion but I didn't.I focussed on aspects I felt were worthy of discussion.

It's not a vendetta. I have reviewed his shows in the past and will do so in the future.I just prioritised the material presented before me.

Ron said...

I never suggested it was a vendetta. But I was truly interested to read someone taking him on and the work. 'Incorrigible' is a good way to describe but i would go further.

Why should you write about the work when Austin hasn't? Well, one, because you're a writer. And, two, as you said, Austin was not the curator but the selector.

Auckland may have 60 plus galleries, but all in all, as you may have noticed, it's a pretty predictable - not to mention heavily commericialised - scene with a lack of independent risk-taking activity. Wells, whether hit or miss, tends to freshen things up a little. But it's been frustrating to see no one really take him on.

I wonder sometimes if New Zealand truly appreciates the value of a provocateur. There seems a tendency to dismiss rather than engage.

If Whyte fails to adequately comment on the show, it's time for you to step in. There's little critical discourse in New Zealand on art, at all, so you fulfill a vital role. If I'm not satisfied, there's where else to turn.

John Hurrell said...

Have you ever met Nick Austin,Ron? The guy is a really gifted conversationist who when chatting to you, speaks in fully formed, perfectly constructed sentences. No tentative half-phrases like what I (for one) normally talk through. If there is a person who could argue eloquently for Tao's art, he could. And Dick Whyte is no slouch either. A clear writer. Tao however is famously inarticulate. Can barely spell his own name.It's very revealing that his friends can't say something directly about his work and any merits it might have - when they are publically linked to a show.

so you tell me said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John Hurrell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Hurrell said...

No Tao. I'm not talking about our private conversations. Private always stays private. Talking about your public rants on various websites around the land.

stephen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
so you tell me said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DickWhyte said...

For anyone interested you can see images from the show here: http://www.wayfarergallery.net/dicksartblog/?cat=50

My particular favourite is this one: http://www.wayfarergallery.net/dicksartblog/?p=1

I think it is very conspicuous that no images are shown here. All your other reviews contain lovely images John. The thing is, with the images available at the links above your review makes no sense. Tao's work is very interesting and I wold love to hear some actual art criticism from you concerning his work.

John Hurrell said...

Thank you Dick for your letter, your comments about my review on your site - and for pointing out the indeed excellent images of Tao's work on your blog.
(Thank you Tao too for giving me unexpected publicity for my own art practice, on Dick's blog).

When I write a review often there are no images around to post, but if there are some, I will attempt to use them. My problem is that if I wait too long for the artist's or gallery documentation to appear, I lose momentum for the writing. I prefer to post the text, 'seize the time' - and if I find images later I can then post them.

At the time of writing there were some dreadful images of the show on Tao's own blog - they looked as if taken through a yellow filter - and nothing on Gambia Castle. There was nothing I could use at that moment, but I did provide links to your, Gambia's and Tao's sites.

So I will now post some images taken later from your site and from Gambia Castle's. Thanks for telling me they were around.

jerry said...

I haven't lived in NZ for a while...is JH still colouring in maps?

DickWhyte said...

John - Tao has nothing to do with the 'publicity'.

Also - you have known about the images on Art Bash for at least 9 days - and I quote:

John Hurrell: "I agree that Artbash, as you say, has much more interesting images." (24/11)

So, it is not just that you couldn't find them around. You knew that good images were there and you chose not to put them up with the review, which I feel was somewhat calculated.

John Hurrell said...

When I wrote that post Dick, the only images of Space Jam to be found were the yellowy ones on Tao's blog. The Artbash images I referred to were of other T. W. shows. My explanation above is exactly the case, I can assure you.

John Hurrell said...

Jeremy Weston, if you look at the City Art Rooms site you can see what I've been up to lately.

so you tell me said...

you'r all class Hurrell, all class.
Tao Wells

DickWhyte said...

Jerry, see one JH's map drawings here: http://www.wayfarergallery.net/dicksartblog/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/John-Hurrell-Review-Response-Work-1024x261.jpg