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.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Is it for sale?

Group Show featuring ‘Sacred XIV’ (2005) by Damien Hirst.
Gow Langsford, 26 Lorne St. Auckland
26 May - 31 May 2008 (one week only)

They throw a great opening party at Gow Langsford, and last night’s event to launch the new Lorne St space was no exception. But of course (ahem) one should ignore the people (it was packed) and focus on the art and the space, which seems bigger, more rectangular but less interesting (no intersecting side gallery) – and with some thick structural columns that visually intervene. It’s an excellent location just down from the New Gallery.

The million dollar Hirst, of a dagger in a preserved pig’s heart, looks smaller than expected. Quite unprepossessing, but a very clever take on the tattooed symbol for love that’s been betrayed. Using a pig’s body part as a trope for one’s own emotional centre seems a ruefully cynical comment on the self and any agency that accompanies it.

Visual speaking, possibly the sculpture by Tony Cragg and painting by James Cousins are the most successful, both items dealing with twisting layers of stacked strata. The genius of Cragg at exploring new types of plasticity is well known, but Cousins in his painting is now creating strange new tumbling forms very different from the gridded landscapes he is more known for.

Chris Heaphy has a huge black and white painting on the main wall. It’s a real whopper, but far too big for its fragmented visual content, and over reaching its ambition. A bit like Stephen Bambury’s Ideogram painting in ‘Very Peculiar Practice’ a few years ago, where the work’s size could not sustain a finely tuned dynamic. Heaphy’s image is of quoted Richard Killeen silhouettes that look as if they have been composed by A. R. Penck. His ‘skull’ painting in the office (also ‘Killeens’ but positioned by ‘Tony Cragg’) is much more successful in its scale, though skulls now are like hearts, a dreadfully overused symbol. That is why Hirst is a good artist and Heaphy, one could argue, a bad one. With the pig’s heart Hirst has reinvented the symbol from a semantic, not a visual, viewpoint. He is a leader that way, not a follower of conventions.

Of the remaining three artists, Liu Fei’s painting of a carbine toting, shaven-headed female soldier is the most distinctive – it’s an image with personality (& similar to the one above). As for the show’s selection, it is actually more interconnected than what it at first appears, especially with the links between Tony Cragg and the two New Zealand artists. The Hirst is worth seeing because it is clever, not because of its price, so ignore all the media hoopla (Gow Langsford must be so upset!) pop in and have a look.

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