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.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Drawing in the crowds?

National Drawing Award
29 November – 20 December 2008

It is a mystery isn’t it, this thing called ‘drawing’? Such a mercurial activity…what the hell is it? Is it all about the support, should it always be on paper? Is it the medium? Can that be paint or liquid (or only dry and graphic)? Can it include collage or photography? Is it a completed artwork or is it only part of a process, one stage in a chain of activities?

Let’s say, for the sake for argument, that drawing is essential to most art preparation. (It might not be now.) Does a show like this one at ARTSPACE treat the activity with seriousness and dignity? Is a competition with hundreds of sheets of A4 paper – entered by individual artists - the way to go? How is it that ARTSPACE, The Physics Room and Enjoy can present such an ill-conceived exhibition without blushing? This event obviously believes it has credibility. What a delusion.

The reason I say that is that the motivation for the event is not to investigate the merits of drawing as a thinking tool but about door numbers. It is about trying to attract big audiences to ‘under populated’ venues by promoting a specious notion of democratic participation – all entries welcome, and a ‘people’s vote’. If it were a sincere search for excellence, or an examination of a conceptual tool, it would focus on a group of artists esteemed for their use of the method and (using a panel) invite them to submit suites of work (more than one work is essential to establish a context) that involve sensibly sized sheets of paper.

Then we would something palpable to discuss. A small body of work from say, half a dozen varied individuals committed to the activity. Not dabblers, which competitions like this invariably attract.

So rummaging through this 2008 gig. Is there anything worth salvaging out of this dog’s breakfast? Well my personal tastes drew me to Elliot Collins (39) for his use of language as image maker, Jeremy Unkovich (123) for his investigation of random bacteria-like forms, Rob Gardiner (142) for his exploration of space in a corner, Candy Cho (166) for her eclectic use of motifs from applied arts and lettering, and Mark Solters (193) for his drawing of somebody drawing a square.

The exhibits that won prizes, from John Ward Knox, Peter Madden, and Ruth Cleland, were there for their technical facility and not (in my view) for explorative conceptual qualities. Whilst it is terrific for the individuals concerned to get the recognition, both Ward Knox and Madden anyway have significant reputations for reasons quite removed from their works in this show.

I think shows like this are a big mistake. A trivial gimmick. ARTSPACE (and the Physics Room, and Enjoy) are ignoring their regular committed audiences in favour of brief appeals to temporary ‘non-art’ visitors in the hope of greater numbers. Forget them. Build on the client base you know well.


peter madden said...

now your being pathetic .a trivial gimick sounds more like your blog than the genuine submissions of over 300 people. you rage against art YOU percieve as lacking any conceptual drive , but are unable to deliver one single idea, ahhh the irony isnt lost on us...,this is now the secound time I have been at the end of your barbs. Have you got issues with moi? Do we need to catch up and ... well you now sort they say were I come from
'thems is fightin words"

John Hurrell said...

Peter,you've got it wrong. I wasn't firing shots across your bow at all. In fact by putting the link there I hoped to establish I admire you for other reasons - to do with sculpture and your treatment of space. I was trying to show I wish the prize-winners well, but that I disagree with the judges. Nothing remotely personal is going on, now or earlier.

Man I've got people jumping up and down defending you against my arguments. You should be delighted. I'm doing you a favour.

peter madden said...

on your word..I promise to take my meds and turn my maddox to the wall..guess i am a derranged cheerleader for all things art on account of how hard it is to make the damn stuff in this culture...which by extension i endorse your discursive prose.. I guess its at times when you are less than charitable towards artists that i experiance tempory insanity keep it up we will still read you..we love to...

Agnes said...


'regular committed audiences'?
'temporary ‘non-art’ visitors'??

Sounds like the ramblings of an elitist! Is there some exclusive 'Artspace' club that I have not been invited to partake in? I would like to join this 'client base'. Where do I sign up?? Please, please tell me so I can sign my name on a dotted line and start becoming a stick-in-arse 'regular'.

Doesn't matter anyway. I will probably be denied access as I am really just a mere art-school 'dabbler' or a 'door number' if you will, lured by the promises of a $4000 cash prize and a free show at Artspace. Who am I kidding? In truth, I only entered for the free beer at the opening! I don't even normally draw! I don't even know what a 'sensibly sized' sheet of paper is! Ha funny that...good thing I didn't win.

John Hurrell said...

Sorry Paint and Bake, but anyone with a tertiary art education is an elitist.There's no escaping it. You are part of the club, indeed a 'regular.' Get used to it.

And don't they teach drawing at AUT? You think A4 sheets are sensible? And that the beer should never run out? Crikey you are right. It IS a good thing you didn't win.