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.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


More jokes with strangers: Nick Austin, Sarah Gruiters, David Hofer, Martin Jakowitsch, Sam Rountree Williams
A Centre For Art
6 August - 22 August 2009

The enigmatic title of this exhibition refers to an earlier ‘Jokes with Strangers’ show at ACFA curated by Sam Rountree Williams and Patrick Lundberg a year ago. A show I wrote somewhat dismissively about at the time.

ACFA have a better lit, less claustrophobic space now, and this display is a less provocative hang. I think it’s superior. Not so gimmicky. Much easier to try and think about what each artist is up to.

Martin Jakowitsch provides the work most obviously ‘a joke’ in the non-sarcastic sense of being giggly funny. It is an old thin silver teaspoon lying on the window ledge. He has taken the concave scoop part, cut off half of it and reattached it inverted – with a tiny metal wall linking the two cross-sectioned scoop portions. It looks very strange and is oddly surreal. It is in the tradition of gags like those teaspoons that have their ends hidden in bowls of sugar, that have holes in their scoops or scoops with hinges attaching them to their handles.

Nick Austin contributes a wonderful wall sculpture, a hanging, soft, grey pullover that seems to have broken eggshell attached to the inside elbow part of its arms. It’s not eggshell, but some sort of very thin white rubber lining that’s brittle and jagged. It’s got all the understatement mixed with iconic impact so characteristic of this artist.

Of the ‘paintings’ David Hofer’s is the most interesting because it plays with the conventions of compositional organisation. His two horizontal canvas-boards project from the wall as if joined by a hinge like a folder. The top one almost mirrors the bottom with its placement of minimal watery stains and soggy smudges. It incorporates some spongy Ernst-like decalcomania, mixed with non-mirroring smears and pale bands of green wash. It looks deliberately unfinished with its unintegrated elements staying fragmented.

This sense of raw abeyance, a process in suspension, continues with Sam Rountree Williams’ large canvas covered with small cockle shells. The very pale dominant field has patches of delicate silvery pink or creamy yellow, interrupted by a sprayed calligraphy of slashing black verticals, undulating blue arabesques, and red diagonals - with green bushy shapes appearing in the top lefthand corner. Some of the lower shells contain punctuating dark wispy blobs. They introduce a nice scattering counterpoint to the vertical.

Sarah Gruiters has a handmade singlet of heavy plasticy material drawn over with coloured fibreglass-tipped markers on both sides. It’s on a hanger that can be turned around. The drawing is rough and gross, calculatedly ugly like say S. Clay Wilson (the misogynistic sixties comics genius) but less sophisticated. On one side is a pair of gnarled and knobbly legs and feet, and on the other an inverted cartooned head with bulging bug-eyes and grinning mouth of yellow teeth.

Gruiters seems at odds with the rest of the show. Austin, Jakowitsch, Rountree Williams, and Hofer have sculptural and painterly sensibilities, but she seems more graphic and linear. It’s a strange exhibition. Worth taking the trouble to visit for the knock-out Austin.

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