Thursday, 26 June 2014

Time-based art at Auckland Art Gallery

Assessing the physical condition of Ascents and Descents in Realtime, 2008 by Alex Monteith 
The Marylyn Mayo Internship at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki offers training and work experience for recent graduate and postgraduate students who intend to pursue a career in art galleries. As the 2014 Marylyn Mayo Intern I will be conducting a comprehensive survey of time-based artwork in the Auckland Art Gallery and Chartwell Trust collections.

My role is to scope the collection, assess the condition of the artworks and prepare a methodology for adequate documentation of future acquisitions. This includes exploring maintenance issues and working with the registration team to insure all relevant information is entered into Vernon, the Gallery’s collection management system.

I am currently undertaking a Masters of Cultural Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne. Although I am interested in all aspects of conservation, I would like to direct my studies towards the conservation of modern and contemporary art. My thesis will compare strategies employed by international organisations when collecting, storing and presenting time-based artworks.

Prior to commencing postgraduate study I was a practising artist making installation art with an electronic and/or digital component. I also have extensive voluntary experience working within contemporary art organisations, such as Gertrude Contemporary in Melbourne, and artist-run spaces, including Format in Adelaide.

The term ‘time-based art’ refers to artworks that are dependent on time for the maturation or completion of the experience. Relevant media includes audio, video, film and installation art. Auckland Art Gallery currently holds close to 300 time-based artworks. Although artwork is evenly distributed across production year, the acquisition of time-based artwork continues to grow. This is greatly influenced by the Chartwell Trust’s collection, which is cared for by the Gallery.

As shown in the chart below, 39% of all time-based artworks in the Auckland Art Gallery and Chartwell Trust collections is digital. In this context, the term ‘digital’ is used to describe audio on CD, single and multi-channel video installations. Although some work may have specific installation instructions, the presentation of audio and video work is fluid and greatly influenced by curatorial direction.

Distribution of time-based art
While 13% of all time-based artwork is analogue (film, slides and records), 15% is sculptural with an analogue and/or digital component. Generally, work of this nature is dependent on specific equipment and/or technology. Artworks such as Drunk Chimp, 2002 by Ronnie van Hout and Landscape Painting 4, 2011 by Jake Walker pose difficult questions regarding long-term preservation and access.

Ronnie van Hout, Drunk Chimp, 2002
Jake Walker, Landscape Painting 4, 2011
With the upcoming exhibition Light Show, 11 October 2014 – 8 February 2015, many of you may be interested in Auckland Art Gallery’s collection of light-based artwork. Auckland Art Gallery holds close to 60 artworks in which light, an essentially ephemeral material, plays a pivotal role in audience perception. Currently, Objects Conservator Annette McKone is surveying the oeuvre of Bill Culbert, one of New Zealand’s leading artists and the country’s representative at the 2013 Venice Biennale.

Bill Culbert, Flat Out, 2009
The final 12% of time-based artwork in the Auckland Art Gallery and Chartwell Trust collections are those with an electronic component, such as Geographer (2), 1995, by Paul Cullen, and those that are not easily classified. Crystal Enclosure, 1985, by Alan Sonfist, which examines the growth of crystals on an acrylic sheet, is an example.

Paul Cullen, Geographer (2), 1995
– Brooke  Randal, 2014 Marylyn Mayo Intern

Image credits:

Ronnie van Hout
Drunk Chimp 2002 
mixed media 
Chartwell Collection
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2002

Jake Walker
Landscape Painting 4 2011
paint on laptop 
Chartwell Collection
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2011

Bill Culbert
Flat Out 2009
wood, glass, fluorescent tubes and electrical cable
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki 
gift of the Patrons of the Auckland Art Gallery, 2009

Paul Cullen
Geographer (2) 1995
metal chair frame, globe, motor, electric cord
Chartwell Collection
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2010

Monday, 16 June 2014

Vale Gordon Bennett (1955–2014)

Gordon Bennett Home decor (Algebra) Daddy's little girl 1998
Australian artist Gordon Bennett broke new ground with his distinctive images which commented on local and global issues and questions of contemporary existence. Art offered a means of communication for Bennett that was not possible through other channels. He sought out art, undertaking a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art in his hometown of Brisbane at Queensland College of Art. He developed a language in painting and printmaking to interrogate the colonial history of Australia, which was significant in Bennett’s own life. A prolific outpouring of images during the late 1980s and 1990s tapped into postcolonialism and poststructural rethinking of established histories and discourses.

Both commercial and institutional representation were important for the public awareness of Bennett’s practice. Thanks to his gallerists, Bennett’s work had regular presentations in Brisbane and Melbourne, as well as Sydney and Adelaide. His paintings, works on paper and videos were the subject of solo exhibitions in Australia, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Bennett’s works appeared in major exhibitions including dOCUMENTA 13, Germany (2012); the 9th and 12th Biennale of Sydney (1992 and 2000); The Third Asia Pacific Triennal, Brisbane (1999), and a long list of other significant exhibitions.

Bennett’s art was significant for its stand on big issues, as well as its ability to get highlight elements of everyday existence. His reflections on the myths perpetuated in Australian history, such as terra nullius, and attitudes towards Australian Aboriginal people, raised audience awareness of identity politics and the need to re-examine colonial and modern narratives. Bennett’s images of lost explorers seeking the apocryphal inland sea, references to the perspectival tools and mapping of European Enlightenment and the negation of Indigenous presence remain imprinted on viewers. Bennett’s practice was important for artists as well as audiences, setting a significant example of an artist unafraid to engage with the contemporary issues of race, sovereignty and citizenship for emerging Australian Indigenous artists.

Gordon Bennett Notes to Basquiat: Double vision 2000
Bennett remained attuned to the ideological effects of language, images, media and other forces on contemporary life. In recent years, works such as the Camouflage images or the seminal Notes to Basquiat paintings engaged with newer currents in our existence – fear and terror as they were amplified after 9/11 and the Second Gulf War. In these, like his abstract grid paintings of the last decade, Bennett invited viewers to identify undercurrents of meaning and create broader associations.

Bennett’s art was contemporary in more than just its subject matter. In larger series of paintings he worked in a cut-and-paste mode, drawing on other artists’ imagery, and also recycling motifs across time and works. This strategy of appropriation and self re-deployment could be interpreted as a reversal of appropriation – an act on behalf of a people whose history includes the loss of land and the ‘Stolen Generation’. References to the paintings of Piet Mondrian and de Stijl artists in Bennett’s Home Decor works, in which images from Australian modernist artist Margaret Preston’s designs also figured, operated in this way. Aspects of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s imagery regularly reappeared, in homage and sympathy, in this case.

In recent years Bennett also painted under the name John Citizen, a nom de plume that suggests the everyman. Citizen was the artist of the Interior paintings, images abstracted from photographs published in lifestyle magazines. Strangely coloured (often painted with leftover studio paints), these urban interiors evoke the banality of material culture resulting from regarding one’s consumer status as a contemporary social aspiration.

Art and ideas are poorer with the loss of Gordon Bennett on 3 June 2014. His practice stimulated thinking across many areas of the humanities and broke new ground in art engaging with contemporary issues in the West. Bennett’s practice will continue to provide a productive challenge to audiences and evidence the social value an artist can bring by mining untold narratives and visualising under-represented histories.

– Zara Stanhope, Principal Curator, Head of Programmes

Image credits: 

Gordon Bennett
Home decor (Algebra)
Daddy’s little girl
synthetic polymer paint on canvas
182.5 x 182.5 cm
Private Collection, Melbourne

Gordon Bennett
Notes to Basquiat: Double vision 2000
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
152.3 x 182.7 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of Henry Gillespie, Governor, 2000.

Images courtesy of Sutton Gallery, Melbourne

Friday, 6 June 2014

Para Matchitt's vision of the haka!

When I was a child my mother took me to an exhibition of Paratene Matchitt's artwork in Hamilton and I have followed his career ever since. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki recently acquired at auction an early painting by Para titled Au Au Aue Hāa! It is one of the first contemporary painted representations of haka.

Hamish Keith confirmed that he had worked with both Peter Tomory and Colin McCahon on the New Zealand Painting 1962 exhibition, in which this painting was included as catalogue number 52. It was likely that Hamish was responsible for alerting Peter and Colin to Para's talent.

I phoned Para and he recalled in a flash that this painting was shown publicly for the first time at this Gallery – a few months after he had completed it on Sunday 9 September 1962.

When I first saw the painting I did not know its correct title and the painting has no inscriptions on the back of the original frame. I accessed the artist's file in the E.H. McCormick Research Library and recalled that I had assembled useful information about Para's early work. I re-read Rangihiroa Panoho's MA thesis on the artist that is held in the Library.

In  Para's file there is a black and white photograph of this painting, that I sourced from the New Zealand Herald long ago when I did not know the work's whereabouts. I had written onto the photo's mount card this commentary from the Herald of 23 September 1964:
A painting by the Hamilton artist, Para Matchitt, showing how traditional Maori art forms can be applied by a modern artist to produce powerful symbolic effect – in this case the vigour and ferocity of the haka. The author of the accompanying article considers Para Matchitt’s work suited to present day architectural application.
In the artist's file I found the following undated colour article from the New Zealand Women's Weekly. What a stun to see  Au Au Aue Hāa! reproduced top right and another Para Matchitt painting The Carver III  created in May 1964 and which we acquired in 2007.

Para Matchitt’s Au Au Aue Hā!!! comes from a small group of gouache paintings that interpret visual aspects of haka as it performed as dance yet traditionally depicted in whakairo. Para was one of the first artists to bring indigenous carving and dance traditions into painting.

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa holds the smaller painting Whiti te ra 1962 (675 x 430mm) which dates from 3 months earlier than Au Au Aue Hā!!! The painting's title echoes the passion filled call in the renowned haka Ko Niu Tireni (1925) written by Wiremu Rangi.

Au Au Aue Hā!!!
is one of Para Matchitt’s earliest major works. The painting did not result from either a preparatory sketch or preliminary drawing, which is in line with the ways he imagined all his paintings and drawings in his mind and then drew them accordingly.

The figure in the painting is shown performing a haka with upraised hands and arms and with feet set apart. By restricting his palette to muted greys with intense tones of red and black, the painting reveals a powerful graphic presence. The figure’s naval, chest and bicep are indicated by traditional Maori designs that have been transformed in expressive gestures.

In the Women's Weekly portrait of Para seated above, he is holding his sculpture Crucifix 1964 which the Ilene and Laurence Dakin Bequest purchased for the Gallery in 2007.

[I see Auckland has the England versus All Blacks rugby match at Eden Park this weekend. I know that there will be a terrific haka performed by the men in Black just before kick-off]

Image credits:

Paratene Matchitt
born 1933 Aotearoa New Zealand
Ngāti Porou, Whakatōhea, Whānau ā Apanui
Au Au Aue Hā!!! 1962
gouache on paper
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
gift of the Ilene and Laurence Dakin Bequest, 2014

Undated clipping from the New Zealand Women's Weekly

Unknown photographer Para Matchitt circa 1965

Thursday, 5 June 2014


I have now been working at the Gallery four weeks – I had to check my calendar as it feels like time is moving so fast. I have been tasked with a number of projects, most under the guidance of Indigenous Curator Māori Art Ngahiraka Mason, to ensure that I am meeting the high standards that the Gallery sets.

These projects include uploading information to Vernon (a collection management system), identifying works in the collection that require copyright permission for display on the web, working on extending programming for the My Country 'Story Corner', creating a Learning Centre activity space for the next big exhibition, conducting research into the Gallery’s collection and video archives and – not least of all – putting together programming for the upcoming month of Matariki.

The Matariki programme is taking up the majority of my time at this stage, as I have committed to a tight deadline with a wide ranging programme involving screenings, art bites, family drop-in activities, public sculpture walks and even an internal project that involves te reo T-shirts and staff participation (more on this later).

To help myself centre programming ideas I devised what I saw to be the five core principals of Matariki. These are not mutually exclusive themes but were guiding points for considering ‘does this fit with the kaupapa of Matariki?’ I decided that all programming must connect to two or more components of the kaupapa to be both focused and succinct while remaining diverse.

The five points of my Matariki kaupapa are:
  • Te Ao Māori (Māori world) – The meaning and tradition of Matariki, stories and significance
  • Korero (dialogue) – language, discussion, talks, communication, interpretation (this month of Matariki also includes te wiki o te reo Māori – Māori language week)
  • Kai (food) – nurturing, growing, harvesting, sharing of food
  • Tangata (people) – Whānau, family, whakapapa, relationships, intergenerational learning
  • Whenua (land) – Site, history, place, architecture, environment, sustainability
I think the Gallery realises the importance of Te Ao Māori (a Māori world) and by encouraging me to actively seek to partner and create content and understanding around Matariki, they are offering the chance to shape the perception of ‘Māori’ for the many people connected to the Gallery.

My hope is that by creating engaging content around Matariki, it will help to further the understanding of the value of all things Māori as well as the inclusive nature of relationships and togetherness that Matariki inspires. For communities who may feel under represented this is your chance to be a part of the Gallery, share your uniqueness and add to the complex tapestry that is Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Te Ao Māori is reflected in the redeveloped architecture through works by Fred Graham, Arnold Manaaki Wilson and Lonnie Hutchinson. It is also apart of the building’s architectural conception, The realm of Tāne: ‘Inspiration was drawn from the parkland setting of the Gallery with adjacent shelter of mature pōhutakawa trees, Māori consider the bush the realm of Tāne Mahuta, a place where spiritual and creative renewal occurs. This became a central leitmotif of the design.’ii For me, all these structural inclusions set up a place of engagement and now it is about connecting people, art, life, site and architecture. To increase the presence of the people reflected in structure would be to energise and complete the Gallery’s purpose. The ongoing presence of Māori has been literally immortalised in stone and wood by these three artists.

Image 1                               Image 2                                                Image 3
To me these works say: You are represented here and your voice and presence is welcome. I must mention how amazing and historically uplifting it is that at this very moment the Gallery has two Indigenous focused shows running simultaneously Five Māori Painters curated by Ngahiraka Mason and My Country: Contemporary Art from Black Australia curated by Bruce McLean, Curator Indigenous Australian Art, QAGOMA, who is a Wirri/Birri-Gubba man with heritage from the central coast of Queensland.

– Martin Awa Clarke Langdon, Toi Māori intern

The title of this blog Korurangi references an exhibition of the same name held at Auckland Art Gallery in 1995. Korurangi: ‘a Māori motif in which two spirals surround each other without meeting – a coexistence that recognises difference.’ –  notes from the exhibition introduction, Korurangi: New Maori Art 1995.

ii Chris Saines, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki – A Place for Art, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2013, p 39. This kōrero was provided to the Gallery by Haerewa, the Gallery’s Māori advisory group, through their representative, Bernard Makoare.

Image 1. Arnold Manaaki Wilson, He Aha Te Wa – Moments in Time, 2010
Image 2. Fred Graham, Te Waka Toi o Tāmaki, 2011
Image 3. Lonnie Hutchinson, Te Taumata, 2011