This week we've been installing a new collection exhibition, Your Hotel Brain. It replaces curator Ken Hall's elegant meditation on architecture and memory, Above Ground, in the contemporary collection galleries.
I borrowed the title of the exhibition from Don de Lillo's epic novel of the 1990s, Underworld, inspired by Tony de Lautour's five-metre long painting, Underworld 2. It refers to the way that countless images and pieces of information float through your mind without context, everything equivalent, everything happening all at once, and each clamouring for attention. Some things pass through quickly and are never seen again; others check in for a long stay.
I thought that the 'hotel brain' could be a useful metaphor for the way that information is all too often detached from its context in the digital age, and might also gesture towards the atomisation of history that first began to be registered in the 1990s.
Your Hotel Brain brings together some key works from the contemporary collection. It focuses on the cohort of New Zealand artists who came to national—and in some cases international—prominence in the 90s. The earliest work in the exhibition is Margaret Dawson's photograph Marg H.L. Persona (1987); the most recent work is Fiona Pardington's Believe (2015). Identity politics, unreliable autobiographies and interest in a broad spectrum of visual culture—in which Black Sabbath’s music, prison tattoos and NZ's no-smoking legislation are as likely to be a source for making art as anything else—are common themes among the works.
While several works are new acquisitions that are being exhibited at the Gallery for the first time, others feel like old friends. And one work is both at once. We acquired Bill Hammond's Volcano Flag (1994) last year. It hung at Lyttelton’s Volcano Café (later the Lava Bar) for about fifteen years until the building was demolished following the Christchurch earthquakes of 2010–11. It's an important work both in national art history, and local social history.
The Devil’s Blind Spot: Recent Strategies in New Zealand Photography
Recent photography by an emerging generation of New Zealand artists.
Shane Cotton: Baseland
Christchurch audiences at last have the opportunity to experience the complexity and ambition of Cotton's latest work in this two-venue exhibition by one of the biggest names in New Zealand art.
When we asked Tony de Lautour to produce a new work for the Bunker—the name Gallery staff give to the small, square elevator building at the front of the forecourt on Montreal Street—he proposed a paint scheme inspired by Dazzle camouflage. Associated with the geometric near-abstraction of the vorticist movement, Dazzle was developed by British and American artists during the First World War to disguise shipping. It was a monumental form of camouflage that aimed not to hide the ship but to break up its mass visually and confuse enemies about its speed and direction. In a time before radar and sonar were developed, Dazzle was designed to disorientate German U-boat commanders looking through their periscopes, and protect the merchant fleets.
Senior curator Lara Strongman spoke with Tony de Lautour in late January 2016.
Back on 20 September 2011, when our public programmes team began setting up the Hagley Park Geo Dome for a talk with Shane Cotton, they put out about sixty chairs and would have been glad to fill them. After all, it was a cold night in Christchurch, the roads were rough, the Geo Dome was off the beaten track and the quake had long since broken the rhythm of the Gallery's old Wednesday night programme of public talks.
A miscellany of observable illustrations
Romantic notions of gothic leanings, the legacy of Tony Fomison, devotion to rock sub-genres and an eye to the past are familiar and sound reasons to group Tony de Lautour, Jason Greig and Bill Hammond together in one exhibition, but De Lautour / Greig / Hammond is to feature new and recent work. Could all this change? What nuances will be developed or abandoned? Will rich veins be further mined? We can only speculate and accept that even the artists concerned can't answer these questions. For the artist, every work is a new endeavour, a new beginning. What may appear to the public, the critic or the art historian as a smooth, seamless flow of images is for them an unpredictable process where the only boundaries are those that they choose to invent.
Séraphine Pick: assumed identities
The celebrated faces gracing two of the paintings in Séraphine Pick's Brooke Gifford Gallery exhibition late last year wore expressions that were hard to pin down. Defensive, evasive and devoid of their customary charisma, the only thing they clearly conveyed was their wish to be somewhere – anywhere – else.