Zero Degrees of Separation
The New Zealand art world is an intimate place but my connection to Jenny Harper runs deeper than the usual bonds of a small community. Admitting this is a necessary disclaimer. I’m not an objective commentator; Jenny is family, literally. And professionally, I owe her plenty. What follows are some personal recollections about the Jenny I know through the associations we share, on the occasion of her imminent departure from the Christchurch Art Gallery, where she has been director since October 2006, making this the longest role in her distinguished career.
Raising the Stakes
On the opening of the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū Jenny Harper, then at Victoria University Wellington, wrote that the challenge for the newly opened Gallery was ‘to raise the stakes by acknowledging it is no longer the McDougall but is poised to become the force in the New Zealand art scene that Christchurch deserves.’ When, three years later, she became director of the Gallery, that’s exactly what she set out to achieve on several fronts. One of those was developing the collection.
Behind the work of Auckland-based artist Shigeyuki Kihara lies a vigorous research ethic that falls into complex alignment with her cultural, political and gender identities.
An Undeniable Promise
There is such a burden of expectation placed on Anne’s painting, and on the exhibition… itself. I feel, like many women painters that she is being asked to prove an undeniable promise. This is unfair.
Raiding the Minibar
When does history start? What is the time span of the present? When do the margins of the contemporary begin to dissolve into the past? Our collection-based exhibition, Your Hotel Brain, looks at a group of New Zealand artists who came to prominence in the 1990s. Collectively their work explores ideas that have been critical to art-making in Aotearoa New Zealand over the past twenty years. Identity politics, unreliable autobiographies and references to a broad spectrum of visual culture – including Black Sabbath’s music, prison tattoos, automotive burn-outs and our no-smoking legislation – traverse the contested ground of recent New Zealand art, linking the just-past with the emerging present. A selection of works from the exhibition are reproduced here.
Representing Women: Ann Shelton’s Dark Matter
What is ‘dark matter’? For theoretical physicists it is matter that cannot be directly observed but whose existence is nevertheless scientifically calculable – productively present yet simultaneously invisible. In a similar vein, the everyday phrase ‘dark matter’ describes objects, conditions and situations that harbour unease or trauma. Trauma that is often concealed, repressed, or buried. Both definitions are active in Ann Shelton’s mid-career review exhibition Dark Matter, and they provide a rich point of entry into this compelling collection of her photographic work. These are photographs that bristle with intensity and refuse to let their subjects die a quiet archival death.
Barbara Brooke: The Woman Behind Ascent
The 1960s brought television, youth culture, jet aircraft and The Beatles to New Zealand. It also saw the emergence of the professional contemporary artist. Dealer galleries were on the rise across the country, devoted to the promotion and sale of contemporary artists’ work, particularly through solo shows, and with them came the possibility of an acknowledged career with the objective of full-time practice. Artists were producing work with a general sense of confidence and this lively art community needed to be documented.
Henri Matisse's Jazz
Henri Matisse’s Jazz is a book that has captivated art lovers and bibliophiles around the world. But it is unlike any other artist’s book that Matisse produced. Designed as an album of colourful prints using his emerging découpage cut-out technique, he fashioned his images on the colour and movement of the circus and created them long before he authored the accompanying text. Abandoning the printed font, he wrote out every word of his typescript by hand. Created during World War 2, Jazz had a phenomenal impact when Greek born publisher Stratis Eleftheriades, professionally known as Tériade, launched it in 1947. When analysed through the prism of his artist’s books he produced during the war, Matisse emerges as a silent activist against the German Occupation of France.
Our Instinct Enhanced
What does Bridget Riley’s art mean? We might imagine that a wall painting titled Cosmos (2016–17) referred to life within a cosmos, an order than encompasses us, whether natural or divine. The designation connotes a degree of philosophical speculation, unlike the direct descriptions that Riley occasionally employs as titles, such as Composition with Circles. But whatever meaning we derive from viewing Cosmos will be no more intrinsic to it than its name. Attribution of meaning comes after the fact and requires our participation in a social discourse. Every object or event to which a culture attends acquires meaning; and Riley’s art will have the meanings we give it, which may change as our projection of history changes. Meaning, in this social and cultural sense, is hardly her concern.
New Zealand artist Laurence Aberhart is internationally regarded for his photographs of unpeopled landscapes and interiors. He photographs places redolent with the weight of time, which he captures with his century-old large-format camera and careful framing. But he’s always taken more spontaneous photographs of people too, particularly in the years he lived in Christchurch and Lyttelton (1975–83) when he photographed his young family, his friends and occasionally groups of strangers. ‘If I lived in a city again,’ he says, ‘I would photograph people. One of the issues is that I even find it difficult to ask people whether I can photograph a building, so to ask to photograph them – I’m very reticent. I also know that after a number of minutes of waiting for me to set cameras up and take exposure readings and so on, people can get rather annoyed. So it’s not a conscious thing, it’s more just an accident of the way I photograph.’