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.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Here is a contribution from Rhondda Bosworth about a New Gallery show.

In Shifting Light
Curated by Ron Brownson
New Gallery
8 October 2008 - 12 April 2009

This stimulating show, using mostly paintings from the collection of the Auckland City Art Gallery, explores the concept of landscape as both external and internal. The show’s curator, Ron Brownson asserts “. . . the differences between interior and exterior space affect what we contemplate as landscape.” This curatorial concept is useful because of its potential for inclusiveness. Almost any artwork can be described as a “landscape” in these terms. In Shifting Light gives us an opportunity to see some fine works.

I enjoyed the room containing paintings by Charles Goldie, Petrus van der Velden, James Nairn and Raymond McIntyre. These vintage works, of landscapes in the orthodox sense, were all wonderful paintings that grabbed my attention. My favorites were Charles Goldie’s The story of the Arawa canoe (c 1938) a tiny painting of great beauty executed on a cigar-box lid, Van der velden’s sublime Stormcloud (1907-09) and Raymond McIntyre’s stunning Evening (1905). I have to mention too, the rivetting colour of James Nairn’s Sunset (1903).

McCahon is represented of course, in top form, demonstrating a spirituality that I hope we never take for granted. His iconic works Takaka Night and Day (1948) and A Candle in a dark Room (1947) are most familiar to me as postcards. The latter is simple and modest in form, yet it effortlessly accesses the spiritual self. I couldn’t help comparing its success with Peter Robinson’s visually breathtaking Strategic Plan (1998). Meticulously executed in red, black and white, with a distinctly Maori feel, this large painting could have been so wonderful, but its texts (I could only understand the ones in English), a banal and cynical critique of the chattering classes and the art world, bring this viewer down with a disappointed clunk.

There was a good photography room with works by Daley, Oettli, Morrison, Baigent and Westra, but they are all dwarfed by the power of Ava Seymour’s photo-collages. I must confess there was a time when I couldn’t come to grips with Seymour’s work, but this time they got me round the throat and gave me a good shaking. The works were selected from her series Health, Happiness and Housing (1997) in which beautiful photographs of pastel-coloured state houses are juxtaposed with inhabitants in the grip of horribly visible dementia. Her diptych Exotica (2004) which depicts a sleazy corner of K’ Rd, is a surreal, psychological tour de force.

Other works I appreciated were John Hurrell’s elegantly cryptic Conan’s Head (1989) a large painting in which fragments of maps create an electric psychological energy, and Bill Hammond’s Buller’s Tablecloth (1947) – brilliant, tantalizing, disturbing. I am usually unresponsive to video works, but Mladen Bizumic’s Hauturu doc (with soundtrack Adagio – Under My Thumb by the Rolling Stones) 2003blew me away. A lyrically beautiful work of shifting fabric-like forms that create a land/sea scape, accompanied by achingly sad music, it went straight to the heart.

(Above, images by Seymour, McCahon and Bizumic.)

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