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, August 25, 2008

Peter Dornauf, our Hamilton correspondent, sends us this review of TWNCAA

Trust Waikato National Contemporary Art Award 2008
Curated and judged by Natasha Conland
Waikato Museum of Art and History Te Whare Taonga o Waikato
23 August - 30 November 2008

Art competitions seem a little outdated these days. Is one art piece, in such a context, really fifteen thousand dollars better than all the rest? Of course not. But that’s the circus one buys into, the premise on which the whole silly thing is constructed; show biz; oooh, ah, a winner, gold medal, glitz, gaga, brouhaha.

Then there’s the judging. I always want to see the works that have been rejected. Maybe we should resurrect the Salon de Refuse.

Anyhow, the Waikato Art Award threw up its ubiquitous “controversial” winner. We’ve had soap holders, DB crates and now a piece of plaster board indented with squared lines. It’s become almost de rigour for such a selection, becoming a little tiresome and predictable.

But that wasn’t the funniest thing going on here. The real crack-up was reading the artists’ statements, watching them strain and puff their way to some kind of bullfrog profundity. The prize for the most inflated piece of verbal gymnastics must go to Marcus Williams and Susan Jowsey for the explanation accompanying their video work, The Limbic. Here’s a sample:

The uniquely mammalian occurrence of individual endocrine regulation through the interdependence of the group.

Worth 9.75 on the horizontal bars.

Most of the time the works collapsed under the weight of such pomposity.

Speaking of the comic, it was amusing to follow the bureaucratic footwork of a nervous director attempting to appease City Councillors and “patrons” perceived negative reactions to the show with pre-emptive quotations from their own latest strategic document. It apparently “challenges us to be ‘bold and imaginative". Whether such a ploy, obviously felt necessary, is enough to dampen the “sense of unease” as Kate Vusoniwailala anxiously and politically puts it, remains to be seen. It’s obvious which patrons the director feels she needs to pitch her message to, given the shift to the doctrine of populism in recent years at this institution.

Having said all that, there were some standout works of the thirty three selected.

Miranda Parkes, Hourglass. Her work always delights. There is that wonderful contradiction between voluptuous, sculptural form and strict geometry of bright paint. A visual feast.

Clay Heads, by Richard Maloy was a stunner. Echoes of Munch’s Scream together with the mud men of Max Ernst and some African tribe. Primal and cleverly executed.

Censored, by Bruce Connew showed us how political art can be done well. Young Sun Han’s Untitled (collaged appropriated image) was simply arresting and Paused Painting by Helen Calder skilfully reminded us of the viscous qualities of paint itself.

(The above image shows the winning work by Patrick Lundberg.)

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