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, December 6, 2007

Things, qualities and space

Making Worlds at the New Gallery, Auckland. 3 November 2007 - 21 January 2008

The role of education staff in the making of a gallery’s programme is an interesting issue. Some might argue they have too much power, even in some institutions having a vote on new acquisitions or submitting proposals. Yet such personnel are crucial for increasing art’s audiences and artists benefit from that. They help inculcate the view that art is normal, that as a form of pleasure – in its viewing or making – it plays a key role in our daily mental musings.

Roger Taberner is Auckland Art Gallery’s Curator of Education. For the summer holiday season he has assembled from the gallery’s collections a ‘family’ exhibition consisting of work from nineteen artists. The aim of the show is to involve the whole family in the exhibition through incorporating additional interactive activities, involving making things and answering questions.

Thematically the exhibition examines the way many artists transmute the mundane into the extraordinary. Extremely general, this all-embracing notion is about the role of the imagination. The spectacular examples in the show are Eugene Carchesio, Peter Madden, Marie Shannon, Francis Upritchard, Neil Dawson, Morgan Jones, Denis O’Connor, and Boyd Webb. They differ from the rest in that certain prosaic objects have triggered off an imaginative energy which has enabled them to make new variations of those objects. With Don Driver, Jim Speers, and Len Lye this has happened to the physical properties of certain materials: qualities inherent within substances, rather than actual images; while with Paul Cullen, Chiho Aoshima, Julia Morison, Bill Hammond, Tony de Lautour and Robert Ellis the work explores conventions of spatial ordering, and various sign systems that fit within that.

As is I hope obvious, though pitched as a kiddie-winkie show, in reality it’s not. Most of the work is far too sophisticated. Even occasionally scary. There is good stuff there that even the most fatigued art buff will find invigorating. Personally I was delighted by the Chiho Aoshima animation and the bizarre digital Jim Speers drawings of imagined circular cinemas. Eugene Carchesio’s grid of inventively 'constructivist' matchboxes is spellbinding and of course the 1988 Hammond is a cracker too, from the good old days when the artist was less avian obsessed.

My only gripe is that it should be like Ron Brownson’s Likeness and Character portrait show downstairs, and have free admission. To charge families at the door when it’s them you are trying to attract is truly nutty. New Zealand art should be free for New Zealanders to look at. That is the only way audiences will ever increase. It’s obvious.

Images top to bottom: Ronnie van Hout, detail from I'm Not Here, installation, fibreglass, camera and monitor, 1999, and Taranaki, coloured photograph, 1992; Morgan Jones, Here On There, tanalised pine and galvanised roofing iron,1986; Boyd Webb, Blessed, cibachrome photograph, 1985; 2 images from Chiho Aoshima,City Glow, 5 screenvideo animation with Bruce Ferguson, 2005; W.D. Hammond, Channel Zero, acrylic and varnish on canvas 1988; Julia Morison,detail from Quiddities 1-10, cibatransparencies 1989; Neil Dawson, Interior 5, acrylic,brass,1979; Eugene Carchesio, Works from the Museum of Science (Dept of 100 Poems), matchboxes, paper,cardboard,1986-94.

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