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, September 4, 2009

Snatch the cash and run

Trust Waikato National Contemporary Art Award 09
Curated and judged by Charlotte Huddleston
Waikato Museum of Art and History Te Whare Taonga o Waikato
5 September - 25 January 2009

With Charlotte Huddleston of Te Papa awarding Dane Mitchell the TWNCAA prize of $15000 for his work Collateral, we have a fascinating situation where one more the ‘non-art’ public is indignant and the ‘art world’ is laughing. Yet both are correct to do so.

The wall label – with its opaque quotation from Louise Garrett – when applied to this ‘pile of rubbish’ says very little to the lay person, and on the night of the announcement the judge made no effort to provide an argument about why Mitchell stood out over the other forty-two finalists.

Her reticence was understandable. His work consists of a sample of the used packaging originating from the various finalists to this exhibition, mainly crumpled envelopes that contained technical information and hanging instructions. Its cleverness lies in its showcasing of the competitive nature of the event (its malicious glee) and its exposure of the collusion of the museum. The institution and the judge had to select from the trash what to display as they couldn’t possibly present all of it (actually they could if the number of other ‘saleable’ contestants was cut down and the plinth made bigger). Waikato Museum participates in the making of this self-ridiculing artwork.

Mitchell’s exposure follows the late seventies work of Billy Apple, Michael Asher’s career, and recent writings by scholars like Lynn Zelevansky. It is one of Mitchell’s best ever works: so successful in its manipulation of the institution’s and WSA’s fingerprints; utterly perfect to pay for the expensive costs of taking a year-long residency in Berlin.

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