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, August 31, 2009

Materials published

Ed. Sam Rountree Williams
Contributors: Matthew Crookes, John Ward Knox, Sam Rountree Williams, Mythily Meher, Nell May (Cover: Alexandra Savtchenko-Belskaia)
pp.20, b/w drawings
Newcall, August 2008
$5.00 (from Newcall directly)

Matters 2
Ed. Sam Rountree Williams
Contributors: Jan Bryant, Amy Howden-Chapman, Sarah Hopkinson, Andrew Clifford, Laura Preston (Cover: Alexandra Savtchenko-Belskaia)
pp.50, b/w and colour photographs
Newcall, August 2009
$10.00 (from Newcall directly)

These two Newcall publications are out just as a third (edited by John Ward Knox) is about to appear within the Newcall component of the next ARTSPACE show. The first one, a thinner, blue-covered booklet with no photographs, has apparently been out for a while. It is, apart from a Rountree Williams article on a Martyn Reynolds and Marnie Slater performance, mainly writing not linked to specific shows. The short texts are well chosen, all having not only informative content, but also a fluid sensual style – to be read for pure pleasure in itself.

In fact it is a superior publication in terms of writing to the second Matters which is technically more advanced with its coloured illustrations. Over the last two years I have read many texts by most of the first Matters contributors, and Rountree Williams presents them here at their very best. All the writing is pitched perfectly, and can be enjoyed over and over.

In comparison Matters 2 has three stand-out contributions: Andrew Clifford on the convoluted university procedural requirements behind the setting up of Window’s Various Artists exhibition, Amy Howden-Chapman on Fiona Connor, and Sarah Hopkinson on Richard Frater.

Clifford is a great art journalist (and excellent curator) who can effortlessly explain the most complicated art-political scenario in lucid language. Here he has a thorough understanding of the conceptual intricacies underpinning the enforced bureaucratic paperwork and manages to turn the various hoops the curators and artists (particularly Rountree Williams and Holly Willson) had to jump through into quite a gripping and entertaining yarn.

Amy Howden-Chapman on Fiona Connor’s Half The Page exhibition at Gambia Castle is another superb article where she discusses Connor’s research material and how this show of replicas came together, mixed with her own concise observations about newspaper display racks, their duplicates - and one’s thinking habits when encountering them.

Sarah Hopkinson’s article fascinated me because of the way at a certain point in her discussion about Frater’s work she admits some components of his Newcall exhibition So long the difficulties of being single cause misgivings. I admired the honesty of her ambivalence (it is extremely rare for curators to say such things) as she attempted to articulate the complexities and contradictions of her analysis.

The writing by Jan Bryant and Laura Preston I did not admire, simply because – irrespective of content and authorial candour - they should not be writing about shows they organised (or helped organise) themselves: in these cases, Broken Fall (AUT and Newcall) and Vincent Grocery (at Enjoy). It was irresponsible for Rountree Williams to include them, for their participation trivialises Matters and turns it into a public relations rag, much like an Air New Zealand magazine you read on a plane. It was a wrong call. Publications like this should avoid overt flag-waving by self–interested participants, and at least attempt a little objectivity.

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