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.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Last month Martin Patrick, Senior Lecturer in Critical Studies at Massey, was in Paris - and he visited the Palais de Tokyo.

Chasing Napoleon
Curated by Marc-Olivier Wahler
Palais de Tokyo, Paris
5 October 2009 - 17 January 2010

Recently I was wandering through the unseasonably warm streets of Paris (it was late November), while indoors a marked chill was evident among its public art institutions - many of them preparing for strikes in response to the cultural policies promoted by Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-wing government. Such developments included both the threat of significant job losses and funding cuts, as museums have been urged from above to “do more with less.” The Pompidou Center was the first to close, and remained so for over three weeks, until a sort of holiday cease-fire of their labor dispute occurred just before Christmas. (Even the Louvre - that is to say, the formidable cultural repository that even those who loathe museums make uncharacteristic efforts to attend—closed its doors for a time.)

Thus after staring pointlessly at the darkened Beaubourg, I considered my other options. The ever-so-chic Fondation Cartier was hosting a retrospective of graffiti art, but to my mind the only thing potentially drearier than street art on the street is street art in the museum. So I proceeded on to various commercial galleries, most of them offering high-end tedium as usual, with two notable exceptions: large-scale photo reliefs by the venerable John Baldessari at Marian Goodman and the captivating installations and videos of Su-Mei Tse at Serge Le Borgne.

Finally I found myself amidst the architectural double-whammy of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Palais de Tokyo. The former hosts an exhaustive and largely turgid permanent collection of the mid-20th-Century French artists whose works one hopes never to see let alone remember, and a worthwhile but oddly selected temporary exhibition of last works by contemporary artists, called Deadline, highlights being Felix Gonzalez-Torres (yet again), Absalon, Jörg Immendorf, Chen Zhen, Willem De Kooning, and the vivid and underrated photographs of Hannah Villiger.

But far more convincing was Chasing Napoleon, a snappy group show at the Palais de Tokyo curated by Marc-Olivier Wahler. The premise of the exhibition (citing the curatorial statement) was to “bring together eighteen artists whose works also read as instruction manuals on how to withdraw into seclusion and take refuge in the limits of the visible.” Despite the portentousness of these remarks the show was consistently hilarious. I must admit that as a guileless American I am a prime target for conspiracy theories, especially having been at work on that particular day pondering both Gallic governmental machinations and the exact number of times I’d overheard Thriller since June.

While literary references from Henry David Thoreau to Don DeLillo were used to contextualize the exhibition, it is the darker iconic persona of Theodore Kaczynski (a.k.a. “The Unabomber”) that took pride of place, in the form of a recreation of his cabin by Robert Kusmirowski, and a reconstitution of his library by Dora Winter. Much like a tabloid journalism/reality TV fix for art geeks, I enjoyed the version of Saddam Hussein’s Spider Hole by Christoph Büchel or Tony Matelli’s Fuck it, Free Yourself!, in which 500 Euro notes stayed alight perpetually. Tom Friedman’s Untitled (a [witch’s] curse), its appearance otherwise indistinguishable from an empty plinth, was scoffed at by a passing couple, eyebrows raised, thoroughly unamused. Meanwhile Ryan Gander’s darkened room installation Nathaniel Knows, featuring both a rough hole burrowed through the exterior wall of the gallery and a ventilation grill, was intended to reference his earlier pieces - but I didn’t care, it was enjoyable all the same.

The more historic components threaded through the exhibition consisted of Dieter Roth’s endless series of slides (purportedly 33,000 images) depicting vernacular architecture in Reykjavik; Paul Laffoley’s simultaneously lurid and schematic paintings mapping the Counterculture; and a nice transatlantic mirroring of Minimalisms: one of Tony Smith’s imposing black geometric sculptures placed alongside Charlotte Posenenske’s galvanized airshafts and ducts. I’d also rank Robert Gober’s sublime pewter Drain, which in a manner of speaking, emptied out the space in-between.

Chasing Napoleon conveyed that particular mixture of perverse fascination and intellectual condescension that characterizes so many European attempts to excavate American mythologies. Though it didn’t avoid this near-inevitable cultural clash, the exhibition itself survived on its considerable curatorial merits. However tendentious its pseudo-argumentation, this altogether elegant display of lively intergenerational approaches was more than effective, combating the more common conspiracy of dull and retrograde artifacts proffered up as if somehow essential and innovative.

[Depicted works, in ascending order, are by Robert Kusmiroski and Dora Winter, Tony Matelli, Charlotte Posenenske, Christoph Büchel, Ryan Gander, Tom Friedman, and Paul Laffoley.]

Monday, December 28, 2009

Maloy, Patterson, Steyerl

Richard Maloy: Raw Attempts / Campbell Patterson: floorshow / Hito Steyerl: After the Crash
12 December 2009 - 27 February 2010

ARTSPACE’s director, Emma Bugden, has organised a trio of related exhibitions for 2009’s last slot, presentations that explore processes of continual change and transmutation. Each of the three artists has a project that is engaging in isolation, and the shows can thus be approached separately, but the challenge for the visitor is to also figure out how the three interact collectively. Do they link up? If so, how?

Firstly, looking at the three solo components, the most dramatic is Richard Maloy’s use of the big square ARTSPACE gallery. Maloy is known for his series of photos and videos where he either applied chunks of gooey butter to his head and face, using his physiognomy as an armature, or lumps of sticky wet clay to his torso and arms - to be smoothed over and incorporated as an extension of his body.

For ARTSPACE Maloy starts by treating the ceiling of the gallery the way he used to treat his body, but with cardboard not clay. It functions as a armature/support, not a surface on which to rest or lean things but a plane to which they can be attached, that supports all their weight. Working at night or in daylight hours when the gallery is shut, he uses a staple gun with which he can fasten opened out and dismembered cardboard boxes, later painted orange.

His first experiment was a huge continually spiralling wall, a thin wonky shell designed like a massive orange peeling – held up by the roof. If you look at the long sequence of online photos here you will see where he has tested other structures too, letting some fall down by overloading or else deliberately pulling them down – only to try hanging up something new. Each time, fastening forms to the ceiling and working his way down by adding to each suspended sheet with sticky tape, or else using the floor to reconfigure the fragile walls when collapsed, to see what shapes can hold up their own weight when folded or buckled around.

Campbell Patterson has used the long narrow gallery to display initially six, now five, projections on the walls. He films his body as he carries out various tasks that often set out the spatial limitations of each site. The dozen or so actions you see him perform include using no hands but soaping his head by rubbing it into a mound of aerosol foam sprayed on the floor, pulling a camera attached to string towards his face by chewing up and ingesting the string, turning another camera with another piece of string as he moves around a small bathroom with a shower going that soaks his clothing, crawling along a tiled floor by dragging the tripod and filming camera behind him, licking up swept dirt or soap powder from piles on the floor, mashing up bananas with his stockinged feet, squeezing through a ventilation shute, and lying on the floor with a pointed stone under his belly.

Of the three Patterson show I’ve seen in Auckland so far, this presentation is the most successful, due to the restricted focus of his material and its self-deprecating humour – despite its knowing art historical references to sixties performance art.

These two Auckland artists specialise in working within specially devised rules, difficult restrictions put in place to shape the form of their projects – vaguely related to the early (pre-performance) poems of Mike Parr and Vito Acconci in the sixties and seventies, or European Oulipo writers like Georges Perec, or Raymond Queneau.

In After the Crash, Hito Steyerl’s film, when placed in this ARTSPACE context, presents dismantled airplanes in an aircraft junkyard in the Californian desert as a metaphor for a morgue with human bodies, with their recyclable parts as tropes for human organs. Though critiquing capitalism and its recent collapse it also marvels as how such an ethos survives, how even discarded waste can be swiftly turned into substantial profit - through being made into exploding film props. The mutilated skeletal aircraft parts however radiate poignancy, part of an ongoing process that parallels those of Patterson and Maloy in terms of inventiveness.

Though Steyerl’s film is quite different to the projects of Patterson and Maloy, and about documented process, not improvised or procedural events, as Bugden puts it ‘the planes take on an oddly human subjectivity.’ The inclusion of this German-based artist is important because of that, as an inverse foil to some of the machinelike, relentlessly unwavering and obsessive aspects of the two highly energetic Aucklanders. A thoughtfully clever package.

Friday, December 25, 2009

When dance becomes Movement Art

robbinschilds + A.L.Steiner: C.L.U.E. (colour location ultimate experience) in collaboration with AJ Blandford
The Physics Room
26 November - 20 December 2009

The activity of dance is one of those varieties of human endeavour that occasionally merges with ‘serious’ visual art practice, resulting in projects like those by Robert Rauschenberg or Robert Morris that involved collaborations with dancer friends (Merce Cunningham) or spouses (Yvonne Rainer). Dance has never attracted analytical texts from philosophers (Francis Sparshott is an unusual exception), although the highly esteemed German conceptual artist Tino Sehgal who arranges performances in museums and art fairs initially came from a dance background, and his work is known for its intellectual severity and theoretical rigour.

robbinschild (Sonya Robbins and Layla Childs) recently did a residency in The Arts Centre in Christchurch. They are dancers who call themselves ‘movement artists’ – a bit like musicians who in the seventies, to avoid associations with conventional or romantic musical properties such as lyricism or melody, began to call themselves ‘sonic’ or ‘aural’ artists.

Yet one wonders if there was a satirical motivation behind this work, it seemed so classically ‘trippy-dippy-hippie’ with its trajectory of a rainbow coloured (seven costumed hues in sequence) road trip. It moved west across the United States via a variety of unpeopled rural and urban locations to finish in California. It was intended to be, as the title says, an ‘Ultimate Experience.’ That wording was unfortunate.

At The Physics Room there was C.L.U.E Part 1 in the main space, a large single screened projection with musical soundtrack, and in the smaller end room, another more complicated version - in the form of a bank of a dozen monitors, accompanied by various beanbags for viewers to lounge in. Plus headphones to use.

Looking at the promotional material, this work was intended to be taken seriously – for all its dated (but now deliberately retro) energetic ‘expressiveness’ and clichéd references. The variation with a bank of monitors was the more successful of the two because you could compare vistas and actions. The twelve differently sized rectangles contained more varied landscapes and movement types than the single projection. Some temporarily had blank, intensely hued screens that seemed akin to some of the more colourful projects of the innovative video artist Diana Thater.

In both works the driving impetus came from the hypnotic sound of the hardworking Seattle band Kinski. They dominated and were tight, whereas robbinschild themselves were not – more abandoned in their use of movement. Not improvisatory: rather they were loose with their vaguely co-ordinated flailing limbs and twisting torsos.

Possibly there might have been a coded repertoire of gestures for each colour, mixed in with the dancers’ bodily responses to the physical properties of each space, but I couldn’t detect a system. Maybe several visits might have revealed one.

With its synthesis of music, body movement, clothing and site C.L.U.E. seemed oddly under-ambitious. It failed because the properties of the installation in the gallery were not sufficiently dynamic. The rooms (especially the large gallery) could have been more physically immersive, with colour and movement used in a more compelling fashion. More was promised than what was actually delivered.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Towards a more fluid image

Ricky Swallow: Watercolours
Toured by the University of Queensland
Christchurch Art Gallery
12 December 2009 - 21 February 2010

Australian artist Ricky Swallow is well known for his finely detailed sculpture (made by carving or casting) of everyday or hybridic objects. The forms are astonishingly precise in the exactness of their execution, with much nuance of planular surface and delicate plasticity – along with avoidance of strong chroma. Therefore to see this show of over eighty loosely executed watercolours is a considerable surprise – for they celebrate saturated colour and wrist action as part of drawing with brushed on pigment. They demonstrate a less cerebral and clinical sensibility, being more overtly emotional in mood.

As a body of work they need to be understood as a response to the tightness of the sculpture, a bodily and mental freeing on the part of the artist, a wish to embrace more of the chaotic and unforeseen. Despite Swallow’s interest in science fiction and current technologies that extend or reproduce the body, he is in a sense a mediaeval artist in his themes and visual treatments. A little like say Roger Mortimer with his guild/craft sensibility (or even Parekowhai), and quite unlike say Dan Arps, et al, Peter Robinson and Paul Cullen who seem to be more about exploring trope (as in the hows of meaning construction) not symbol, process not resolved product.

The exhibition shows Swallow beginning to teach himself the skills of watercolour manipulation twelve or so years ago, and slowly but surely becoming more and more proficient in portraiture, copying images that are often corny in their selection - LP sleeves (James Taylor), art reproductions (Goya, Picasso), photos of folk heroes (Ned Kelly), and movie stills (Jagger as Kelly) - until he becomes like Marlene Dumas, an expert at interpreting the physiognomies of the vulnerable, the savage and the tragic; but with traces of Sydney Nolan. Improving the clichéd source material through transmutation.

You could regard Swallow’s sculpture and watercolours as quite separate: totally independent enterprises but with a little overlap in subject matter – as with skulls - or you could speculate about them on another level. Projects that are linked.

Swallow seems to be searching for his own voice, an individuality readily apparent in his sculpture but in my view not detectable here, a quality through which his 3D practice might eventually become more turbulent and immediate. These drawings are interesting on a non-portraiture level, as an attempt to reach beyond themselves, rather than just as illustrations or explorations of technique.

I think (actually I hope) that they might lead to a looser form of sculpture than what he has made so far. They seem to be tools for thinking about plasticity of form and emotional power. In other words, researching sculpture with psychological and physical atmosphere, objects that are partially dematerialised and far less literal. Devices for researching the presence (or lack of) mass, a shift away from obvious narrative. A self-teaching aid for investigating that.

Monday, December 21, 2009

David Cross visited the Turbine Hall while at the Tate Modern. The Balka show was on.

Miroslaw Balka: How It Is
Tate Modern
13 October 2009 – 5 April 2010

Of all the things you can say about the Unilever series of temporary commissions in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, subtlety has never been a strong suite. From Olafur Eliason’s 'Ben Hur' style manipulation of natural elements to Carsten Holler’s theme park slides, the ten commissions have nearly always been severely monumental and overtly spectacular. To a large extent this is understandable given the sheer magnitude of the space that seems to require a heroic counterpunch from the artist simply to keep the architecture from usurping the sculpture.

At first sight Miroslaw Balka’s latest instalment How It Is suggested more of the same. Sitting snugly in the Turbine Hall, a huge brutal industrially fabricated steel box mounted on legs was anchored to the space. Walking towards it there was the sense that this was a post-minimal object very much in keeping with the former power stations modern architecture and as such was a critical attempt to form an inter-play with the building. Yet a surprising denouement awaits the audience member as they reach the far end of the structure. On arriving at the far wall it is apparent that the box is only three sided and an enormous ramp leads up inside the structure. Crucially you cannot see what is in the box, as a perfect envelope of darkness engulfs the interior. If you want to know what is inside the structure there is no choice but to take your chances and enter the void.

Walking up the ramp towards the unknown is an existential challenge designed to test the psychological mettle of the participant. While certainly bracing as a kind of quest/ordeal, it is hard not to think you are entering the mother ship of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and that annoying keyboard descant was very much wafting through my head with each step. Once inside the structure the extremity of blackness is overwhelming and each footstep feels modest and hesitant. The trepidation is accentuated by the fact that there are people in front of you but you have no idea where. The floor underneath feels solid, no sounds emanate from the act of moving and this is also unnerving. It’s as if the structure is capable of completely absorbing your bodily presence, reducing it to a silent and blind entity in space.

Unexpectedly and blithely I walk head first into the wall and realise the limits of the structure. At this point the work takes on an extraordinary quality as you crash into the threshold and subsequently turn around and look back towards the light. Amazingly the whole interior space is revealed by this illumination, especially the myriads of slow shuffling people moving towards you arms flailing willing themselves to reach the end. Heading back towards the light all of the tension is released and you are able to enjoy the paroxysms of others on what is only a short walk to reach the ramp and exit the structure.

While How It Is is very much an encounter with self and a brilliant manifestation of intimacy rubbing against the grain of the objects scale, the other audience members frame the work in very particular ways. At the time I was there a group of Down’s Syndrome children were enjoying the work by running at full speed into the darkness. The sense of utter danger was phenomenal and their inability to foresee the possible consequences was seat-of-the-pants profound. No amount of screaming from the teachers had any effect and this out of control quality pushed the work into a very disturbing space whereby pure unadulterated freedom nestled against that awful sense of foreboding.

As is the case with such a simple scenario there are a huge number of possible readings of the work. Paula Herkenhoof writing in the catalogue highlights darkness as a language of silence or the ‘ill-heard’, as a cut in reality, as the vibrant signifier of the unsayable - and such readings are without doubt compelling and speak of a grand ambition in the work. Yet ultimately all the allegory and metaphor that is no doubt thoughtfully imbued takes a back seat to something simpler: the all too infrequent experience of an art work carefully, yet emphatically, shifting our experience of what we know and how we clumsily come to know it.

Heidi Brickell

on the Andrew Barber show

David Cauchi and Andrew Paul Wood on

Brought To Light

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hi Readers,

The eyeCONTACT (admin) Team is away in Christchurch for a few days, seeing some web designers and snooping around a few shows. Back very soon.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Andrew Paul Wood tells us about CAG's newly designed Permanent Collection space in Christchurch

Brought To Light
Christchurch Art Gallery
From 28 November 2009

Earlier in 2009 Christchurch Art Gallery initiated a Dunkirk-scale reconfiguration and redistribution of its long-term collection displays. This is now open under the title Brought to Light: A New View of the Collection. There has been much rummaging and rifling of store rooms and Solander boxes.

The re-hang begins at the top of CAG’s magnificent Mussolini-esque staircase with a wonderful proscenium installation by Joanna Langford. Up from the Plainlands (2009) is a sort of Dr Seuss-like landscape of Astroturf supported by toothpick-like scaffolding, connected by a suspended miniature stairway to heaven – the heaven consisting of inflated cumulonimbus made of plastic shopping bags that reinvent the Baroque festoon. It looks fantastic.

This welcomes us to the upstairs landing and two vitrines of twentieth century and contemporary ceramics, at a cursory glance (not really my thing) mostly of the Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada school, and from the hands of the usual suspects – Len Castle etc. One does wonder if art galleries are the best place for ceramics – the effect, especially crowded in as they are, is a little like the duty free mall in Hong Kong airport – but that’s just a personal belief on my part that such things are better kept in context with craft and social history of the museum.

Thence into the space proper. Gone is the more elaborate set of divisions – the carefully mediated chronological labyrinth of yore – in favour of more open (with considerably higher walls), more flexible, and above all, more eclectic open-plan spaces (with themes likely inspired by Michael Dunn’s histories of New Zealand painting and sculpture) beginning with “The Treasures of Ngai Tahu from the World of Light”, a celebration of tangata whenua. This is dominated by a safe but still hauntingly beautiful choice in Fiona Pardington’s Mauria mai, tono ano – a Becher-like catalogue series of black and white photographs of hei tiki from the collection of Auckland Museum. Much to my amazement, the CAG collection’s has no early portraits of Ngai Tahu, and the gallery has borrowed in a striking 1855 portrait of an unidentified Ngai Tahu subject by Charles Haubroe from Canterbury Museum, and some Gottfried Lindauer oils. While the Lindauers are taonga because of their ancestral subjects, I can’t say I really understand the widespread admiration for his rather naïf tea-and-beetroot stiff pseudo-academic style.

The “Connoisseurs’ Room” (a pretentious title blowing smoke up collectors and donors, living and deceased) is a salon-style hang where old masters like Gerrit Dou’s 1663 Piskijken, (a ‘physician’ studying a young girl’s urine for signs of love-sickness or pregnancy, a common motif in Dutch Golden Age genre painting) rub shoulders with Steve Carr’s A Shot in the Dark (Bear Rug) of 2008, which is a wooden carving of an old bearskin rug on a low plinth - possibly the most badly-judged juxtaposition since little tambourine-banging Sandi Thom sang “I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker (With Flowers In My Hair).” Personally I don’t like this kind of PoMo anachronistic shuffle in my exhibition experiences for the same reason NASA launched the Hubble telescope into space – less local interference.

I greatly enjoyed the section “Expatriates: Comings and Goings” particularly for the extensive hangs of Sydney Lough Thompson and Raymond McIntyre (as well as Owen Merton, Margaret Stoddard, Frances Hodgkins, Archibald Nicoll, John Weeks, Rhona Haszard and Olivia Spencer Bower, many of whom are still not well known in the North Island). I do think, however, they should have been separated from the influential immigrants (well, really the instigators of professional art in NZ) Van der Velden, Nerli and Nairn. Any mention of Nerli, of course, must lead us to his best-known pupil. Fanny Hodgkins again, this time with her own section, and rightly so, with pride of place going to The Pleasure Garden famously rejected by the Christchurch City Council in 1948 when offered to the gallery as a gift by a group of private subscribers. Hodgkins by this date enjoyed an extraordinarily high reputation in Britain and Europe. All right, I realise that Fanny remains the most internationally important artist New Zealand has ever produced, but I’m not sure she warrants all this attention – more so than say McCahon, Fomison or Sutton, who have arguably more connection to Canterbury.

Another large space is given over to a magnificent (good for being representative, but by no means exceptional) Bill Culbert installation Pacific Flotsam (2007) created from fluorescent tubes like pick-up sticks, and plastic bottles – a reference to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a USA-sized Sargasso of trash in the middle of the ocean. Much of the impact comes from the sheer heroic scale of the beast – a massive luminous crystal that also manages to highlight the accidental and imperishable beauty of the twentieth century’s detritus. The effect is awesome.

I was delighted to see four Theo Schoon paintings of Maori “moa hunter” rock drawings on loan from a private collection in the hang. Last time I had seen these sketches on cardboard, they had looked a lot worse for wear with battered corners. Presented in stylish black frames they really come to life and pop off the wall.

Inevitably, particularly giving Canterbury’s strong regional resources and CAG’s limited holdings, a menu touristique of sorts prevails. This impression is even stronger in the late modern and contemporary sections – but then as an educational tool the encyclopaedism is priceless: an exquisite Pat Hanly is positioned next to a superlative (Frankenthalerish) Gretchen Albrecht. Works by Clairmont, Fomison, Trusttum illustrate the phase of neo-expressionism inspired by Rudi Gopas. There are some very nice international pieces as well – I was particularly taken by the pop tarts Warhol (a big blue Mao like an overripe plum after a Long March) and a little Lichtenstein.

The contemporary space has plenty of room for installations – woof! Banzai! Mazel Tov! – with perhaps, dare I say it, a slightly Govett-Brewsterish feeling to it. But why not a section on contemporary Canterbury painting to complement the historical sections? And why is that Julian Dashper so high up on the wall? I get a crick in my neck. Things don’t feel quite so structured here. Colour is far more dominant than in the previous hang. There is a rich trove of stuff here, including a lovely Ann Shelton diptych, some truly delightful Paul Johns works and Frances Upritchard baboon (one of a pair, the other being in the summer kiddie show Blue Planet at the other end of the wavy bridge). There are lots of other magnificent and significant works to choose from, including Michael Parekowhai’s well known sculpture of the seal balancing a Duchamp on its nose, a magnificent Killeen and everything else you might (or might not) expect.

Now I am well known for thinking John Reynolds’ recent habit of doodling lexical scrawls on miniature canvasses is a load of lazy conceptual tosh, but although I am by no means won over by Table of Dynasties dominating the far end of the contemporary space - I find it at least visually a whole lot less offensive to my sensibilities than much of his other work (especially the colossal dud that got him nominated for the 2008 Walters Prize). Regardless, it is still intellectually void, queerly mounted, and I am reminded of the Balzac story “The Unknown Masterpiece” in which the master painter Frenhofer works and reworks a painting for a decade in his obsession to make “the most complete representation of reality”. When two fellow artists are permitted to view the finished canvas, they see only a confused blizzard of piled up random colours and forms. “Ah!” says Frenhofer, misunderstanding their shock, “You did not anticipate such perfection?”

On the whole I am really pleased with the result. I like it that the layout is less claustrophobic and serpentine – now you can more-or-less see from one end to the other without worrying about leaving a trail of breadcrumbs or being pounced on by a minotaur. The curators have managed to balance the familiar favourite icons of the local burghers with a fresh batch of material for the genuine art lovers to ogle. Finally we also get to see some of the collection purchases made in the last few years, and research artefacts we have never seen before. It’s also good to see art galleries working closely with museums – it’s the only way the other centres and regions have any chance of competing with the apocalyptic behemoth of Te Papa. All in all, I give it an A-.

Photos courtesy Christchurch Art Gallery / John Collie

Elizabeth Thomson: lost in space

Elizabeth Thomson: La Planète Sauvage
Two Rooms
24 November 2009 - 22 December 2009

This Liz Thomson show is a step backwards from the sparkling fluoro, overly complicated, glass ‘mini-mattress’ relief sculptures she showed upstairs at Two Rooms last year. She has reverted to the plant forms she is famous for by attaching the small, painted zinc, pohutukawa leaves to shallow-relief ‘planet’ discs and wall surfaces to make up a sort of dotty linear drawing. It looks as if she has made too many tiny leaves and rather than throw them away wasted, decided to keep on using them, even in ‘outer space’ where in that context they look ludicrous.

Apart from the irritating leaves, the drawings of ellipses in perspectively receding alignments (Astrophysics Series) look intriguing – foreshortened saucers on the flat surfaces of relief discs is a clever idea with great visual wit. And the large white projecting shallow disc (Voyage Sauvage) on the other side of the room, peppered with glass ‘mothballs’ on sticks, is absorbing too, with the small balls serving as microcosms to the ‘mother’-macro.

Thomson’s ‘Planète Sauvage’ series are strikingly dramatic lunar images, but spoilt by being shallow relief. Flat discs flush with the wall, devoid of mass, would have been less clunky and, if less over-elaborate in surface textures, much superior. And the huge perspective ‘leaf’ drawing of receding ‘Versailles’ runways on the large wall looks like a strange form of oddly delicate folk art. It is too awkward to succeed because the different–sized leaves and horizontal ovals don’t quite co-ordinate to match the angle of the tilted lanes.

There is nothing here that is a total success – usually because the smooth rounded contours of the three-dimensional circles are such a distraction – but Voyage Sauvage comes close with its comparative understatement and reflexivity. It alone is worth a second visit.

The Shimmering Lakes ‘wall drawing’ image above is at Mark Hutchins Gallery, Wellington.