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, May 1, 2009

Portraits of Hotere

Martin Ball: Carey’s Bay
John Leech
28 April - 22 May 2009

These portraits of Ralph Hotere from 2000 are a mystery. Why would anybody want to make one - let alone eight? They tell us so little. Hotere’s head and face don’t provide the right sort of visual stimulus that an artist like Ball needs to make a grippingly successful image, like he has done with say John Hood.

This exhibition showcases Hotere as subject-matter. One could debate the nature of (what I think is ) his grossly inflated reputation, how his best painting came out of the period between the early seventies and mid eighties, and how his vast output of mediocre works on paper tarnished a once dazzling aura – but that would be churlish. He is a much loved figure because of his personal generosity and well known hospitality, but hardly worthy of the sycophantic flattery that this very dull, sentimental show exudes.

And even if you disagreed entirely with all of the above, would you really buy a Ball portrait instead of a Hotere original - if the latter were affordable? And as of course, for most they are not, is there some process of osmosis going on here, some infusion into Ball’s reputation, by virtue of touching the hem of St. Ralph’s garment? A little of the old contagious magic can work wonders for the market. Is that the real reason for this very peculiar display? The cult of the artistic personality, an array of eight ‘sensitive’ physiognomies, here makes very sound commercial sense.

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