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, February 9, 2009

Ultra Intra

Beginning in the Archive: Giovanni Intra 1989 - 1996
Curated by Kate Brettkelly-Chalmers
31 January - 28 February 2009

It is a little over six years since the tragic, stupid death of Giovanni Intra and since then his work has been regularly seen as part of the Chartwell Collection, and his estate of uncollected items auctioned off. An energetic, startlingly articulate artist and curator who effortlessly wrote with a witty, agile, fluid turn of phrase about anything that caught his eye, ARTSPACE is now presenting his archives – mainly Auckland and Christchurch material that he left with his mother before he went to Los Angeles in 1996 to study theory and eventually become a dealer.

This selection of posters, drawings, photographs, jottings and notebooks is presented in four flat vitrines in the main gallery - in a manner similar to the Tom Kreisler exhibition of a year ago. Whereas the Kreisler show had many paintings on the ARTSPACE walls, only one major Intra artwork is presented, while documentation of others is shown with projected slides. Some of the drawings are photocopied and presented in two bound volumes with the vitrines. Other bits of correspondence, to and from Intra, also bound, are in a back gallery on a table of assorted publications (such as those by the collective Teststrip) that he wrote for or else collected. There is also supplementary material generously lent by Ann Shelton and Jim and Mary Barr.

The best account of this archive, now stored by Auckland Art Gallery (in the E. H. McCormack Research Library) is by Robert Leonard in Reading Room 2. However Kate Brettkelly-Chalmer’s essay accompanying this show is very informative, clear and perceptive –though perhaps at times a little too accepting of Intra’s rhetoric. It is a beautifully constructed text that whets your appetite for the varied contents of this exhibition, cajoling you into using this rare opportunity to examine his ideas through his writing and images, and speculating if he will ever be remembered.

People usually of course change as they adapt to new situations, and I suspect the later Giovanni selling for the LA artists of China Art Objects was a different personality – more mellow - than the prickly young firebrand of this time capsule. Here he is infatuated with Bataille, Debord and Boiffard, and hostile to medical practices and forensic photography. He is impulsive, at times jealously territorial and quick to find fault with colleagues. He easily takes offence with anyone who disagrees with his (then radical) ideas about ‘The Clinic’ and surveillance. However he was also very loyal to those in his inner circle. Much of his correspondence shows that for all his erudition, he was also highly emotional. This display shows his kneejerk responses, as does the one artwork on show.

That work, 365 days (1991), a suite of ‘daily’ photographs, is a sarcastic nose-thumbing at conceptual artists like Billy Apple. It is a silly light-weight project that is only a fraction as interesting as his Nature Morte fetish masterpiece owned by the Govett-Brewster, or Chartwell’s ‘pharmaceutical’ Untitled - currently displayed in Ron Brownson’s In Shifting Light exhibition at the New Gallery.

This archive, though certainly fascinating, isn’t as interesting as his completed, more resolved artworks and essays. Its value lies in what it tells us about the processes behind his thinking, but finished results are – in the end - what count. These documents show us the exhibitionism and posing common to both his images and texts, glimpses of his unrelentingly penetrating intelligence and quick responses, and his voracious appetite for researching those theoretical areas he was passionate about. They give us a taste of what he was on about, but they don't show his talent at its very best.

I think an anthology of Intra’s liveliest and most lucid writings would be the best way to represent him. There are many more texts that he created than artworks, and so a sample of those would be more interesting than say, a touring selection of works. Maybe one day that will happen.

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