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, February 14, 2008

some Electrical Gold donated by Peter Dornauf

Existence: Life According to Art
14 July 2007 - 13 January 2008
Solid Gold: Classic Hits from the Rutherford Trust Collection
Curated by Damian Skinner
Waikato Museum of Art and History, Hamilton
2 February - 11 May 2008

Could this be a sudden reversal, a new trend for the Waikato Museum of Art and History, using its purpose-built facility (the top floor) for what the gallery was originally intended – art shows? It has seen two sequential art exhibitions running in an institution whose populist policies in the recent past have seen modern art shows of any note, reduced in number, in size and shoved in corners.

The first one, called Existence, was a bit of a mixed bag. The works ranged from those belonging to recognized nationally established New Zealand artists to others whose pieces dripped with mawkish sentimentality (minus any irony) and should have been lodged in the remainder bin at some local church fair. Full marks to the curator for attempting to grapple with the large questions, but the title of the show provided too much latitude and as a consequence, the exhibition lacked cohesion and force. In some cases the works themselves struggled to add anything meaningful to the issues attempting to be raised.

The second show, currently running, is Solid Gold: Classic Hits from the Rutherford Collection. These works were collected in the 90’s while the Electricity Corporation of New Zealand was still in existence. Its focus is on modern New Zealand art, the earliest piece coming from the 1950’s.

One of the works that immediately caught my attention was a striking Louise Henderson abstract, House of Dieppe, 1957, which would have seemed adventurous for the time. What was noticeable though, was the fact that the work is executed quite roughly. Lines that appear straight, should be straight, attempt straightness, on not too close an inspection, are seen for what they are; crudely delineated, wobbly, just plain poorly worked. Yet having said that, I recall seeing a Kandinsky exhibition at the Tate and being a little shocked by the same sloppiness in his later abstracts. In contrast, in the same show, is an immaculate Geoff Thornley, Tondo No. 11, 1983. The difference is palpable. I don’t mind a bit of rough, indeed enjoy a bit of rough, but…

The other surprise in such shows is the experience of viewing favourite artists whose work one has never seen before. Here are Woolaston, Clairmont, Harris, Frizzell, Bambury, Hanly, Hartigan, Mrkusich, Driver, Walters and others. There is immediate recognition but also delight in the difference. What disappoints slightly is the rather narrow range of subject matter, which is probably a commentary on the state of New Zealand art of the time, or a commentary on modernism itself.

As for the actual display, punters might be well advised to bring a torch. I know low lighting is a requirement, but this is ridiculous. The pieces themselves might be individually adequately lit, but don’t fall over.

1 comment:

John Hurrell said...

I'd like to know more about this show,especially as I respect Damian Skinner very much as a curator. Not really for his Illingworth project - not my taste - but for his Hattaway/Walters/Schoon research which is mindbogglingly brilliant.

The darkness in WMAH? Well the Registrar does all those adjustments, she has to to protect the work. But clever designers can offset those lighting conditions with shrewd wall colours, and the hanging team can separate watercolours from oils for not everything is dim.