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, March 6, 2009

Market wars

David Ellis: Ox Blood
3rd March - 18th March 2009

It seems visual artists who are also renowned musicians or deejays very rarely succeed in straddling both camps to make two successful careers simultaneously. Ellis is not a superstar, but he does seem to have parallel audiences in both, and the content of his visual and aural practices are clearly interwoven. Despite this, because of his infatuation with vinyl discs and record sleeves as raw material with which he can create symbolic meaning in his work, Ellis will invariably always be compared with Christian Marclay, who in my view, as an innovator is infinitely superior.

Ellis is primarily a graphic artist. He is not a painter. His sense of colour is too unsophisticated for that and not particularly integrated spatially, as it floats in disconnected layers. However his practice is rich in references to painting, like that of British Op Artist Bridget Riley - with its swirling waves of stratified clouds, compacted in a churning but ordered mass. These billowing arabesque flows become a metaphor for the cumulative power of music as it spreads and gains market and/or social momentum.

Other images are like undulating lines of overlapping discs – they are visually related to the recent paintings of Noel Ivanoff – and become the swelling ribs of a giant snake. Ellis in many of these has wittily added a turntable stylus for a head, referring to the swaying movement that a pickup arm has when it reaches the end and centre of a record.

The snakes, like the smoky clouds and spilling rivers, are ominous. They help create the sense that music can be socially dangerous, that it can menace and threaten some communities, that it has a compressed energy and violence waiting to be released.

But what of this exhibition’s venue? It is odd seeing this kind of work here, yet Webbs as an established auction house often has dealer shows like this from overseas (mainly NYC) artists. They don’t really have much impact on the Auckland or national discourse because few people see them. No-one is excited sufficiently to publicly comment. However with the open rivalry between Webbs and Art+Object in chasing secondary sales, perhaps Webbs needs to pump up this program and use it to upstage competitors. Art+Object are known for more elegantly designed exhibitions that accompany their auctions, and more selective lists of works, but Webbs’ diversifying for the primary art market has little impact. I suspect the shows aren’t classy enough (or artists famous enough) to get the necessary profile.

Interesting times for investors and collectors, observing strategies, in Auckland.

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