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 2, 2008

University Treasures

Artspeak: Works from the Auckland University Art Collection
Gus Fisher, Auckland
11 April – 24 May 2008

There are well over 800 works in the University of Auckland Art Collection which was started almost fifty years ago - and Andrew Clifford (Gus Fisher’s curator) has selected twenty-seven of them. Apart from all being 2D, static and silent, his choices are surprisingly varied. While a handful of historic paintings, such as the McCahon, Hodgkins and Goldie, look peculiar surrounded by more contemporary endeavours, this is a great assortment to regularly dip into if you are fortunate enough to work close by. Much that you won’t notice on first acquaintance, creeps under your skin and excites you several days later when you are compelled to return. Despite there being too much work in the two rooms, the remarkable diversity – especially of recent acquisitions – keeps you tingling.

There is wonderful humor in having a show entitled after a Paul Hartigan neon which is ridiculing an over-academicised art vocab and discourse that many think is ossified, too hermetic and discouraging of new ideas. Perhaps nervousness is what prevents this show from having a catalogue essay. Delicious irony of course that the venue is a university one.

Some of the works can be linked by chains of formal compositional devices or themes that go across media. For example, the snowflake motif is explored by Yuk King Tan who has made fifteen elaborate configurations using tiny images from online newspaper sites. The symmetry of a snowflake is reflected in Jae Hoon Lee’s extraordinary digital image of a square computer keyboard that at first glance seems to be some kind of demented scrabble board.

James Cousins has a painting that looks like Duchampian waterwheel and windmills stencilled over images of flowers, while Boyd Webb’s photograph of artificial flowers made from fabric, makes them also look vaguely like a misshapen head. Julia Morison’s work from ‘Gargantua’s Petticoat’ on the other hand seems to be a Maori and Celtic hybrid spiral based on interwoven plant tendrils. These are some of the art works worth speaking about in Artspeak.

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