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50s Models Series by Vivian Lynn

Collection

This article first appeared as 'Ahead of her time' in The Press on 18 October 2013

See all 14 works in this series

The old world attitudes and conventions that underpinned the School of Fine Arts at Canterbury College in the 1950s come under scrutiny in Vivian Lynn's 50s Models Series, a set of collages recently acquired for Christchurch Art Gallery's collection. When Lynn attended the College, between 1949 and 1951, she found art school life models still arranged according to classical ideals; the men outfitted with spears and posed in heroic stances, the women positioned more passively to reflect the roles of muse or submissive victim. Lynn was struck by the contrast between the archaic world-view preserved in the life drawing room and the post-war zeitgeist that was starting to emerge on the campus outside. Real change was slow, however, and hard-won: when Lynn held her first solo exhibition in Christchurch, some fifteen years later, she was chagrined to discover that a newspaper review of her work was printed not on the Arts page, with the men, but in the Women's section.

By 1977, Lynn was an established artist whose practice was informed and enlivened by a feminist perspective. She returned to the life studies and classical drawings she had made at art school, cutting them up and layering them with fragments from newer works, found images, family snapshots and dot-printed acetate sheets. In tightly balanced compositions that seem to graft together not only materials and images, but moments of time and history, the 14 works in the 50s Models Series consider the sexual politics of the Western art historical tradition. In They made the law, but she---?, a female figure is walled in by fields of Letraset dots and lines that seem to oscillate, forming dazzling and oppressive moiré effects. Rendered anonymous in her nudity, she submits to the viewer's gaze, while a monstrous hand, brandishing a furled document alluded to in the title, looms over her. At bottom right, a flayed torso is further exposed by a foreign hand, its colouration suggesting the chill of marble on flesh. Lynn's works exploit the instability of the collage medium, crafting shifting, fragmented landscapes that threaten to collapse in on themselves.

In an artistic career that has spanned almost 60 years, Lynn has moved easily and deliberately between a wide range of media, producing not only collages, but also drawings, paintings, prints, books, sculptures, photographs and installations. Fabricating nuanced visual vocabularies to fit her purposes, she has sometimes co-opted unexpected and confronting materials, such as hair, skin and MRI scans of her own brain. In Guarden gates (1982), now part of the national art collection at Te Papa Tongarewa, she presented seven wall-mounted cyclone fences, through which lengths of human hair were wound and plaited in intricate patterns. In such works, as in the highly charged compositions of the 50s collages, Lynn's insistent and inventive foregrounding of the female challenges traditional Western attitudes to gender, which considered women largely in physical, rather than intellectual or cultural, terms.

Vivian Lynn 50s Models Series Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū; purchased, 2012

Vivian Lynn 50s Models Series Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū; purchased, 2012

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Collection
50s Models Series
Vivian Lynn 50s Models Series

When Vivian Lynn attended the School of Fine Arts at Canterbury College between 1949 and 1951, she was confronted by life models still arranged according to classical ideals: men outfitted with spears and posed in heroic stances; women positioned passively as beautiful muses or submissive victims. Years later, Lynn returned to the life studies and classical drawings she had made at art school, cutting them up and layering them with fragments from newer works, found images, family snapshots and dot-printed acetate sheets. In tightly balanced compositions that seem to graft together not only materials and images but moments of time and history, the fourteen works in the 50s Models Series consider the sexual politics of the Western art historical tradition.

(We do this, 12 May 2018 - 26 May 2019)

Collection
Venus
Artist Unknown Venus

Item 124 in 'The Logie Collection: a catalogue of the James Logie memorial collection of classical antiquities' by J R Green (University of Canterbury Press, 2009), where it is described as 'A bronze stauette of Aphrodite/Venus'.

Collection
Venus Gratiarum Artibus Exornata E Tabula Guidonis Reni 9 Pedes Et 6 Digits Alta & Pedes Lata In Aedibus Regus Kensington conservata
Sir Robert Strange Venus Gratiarum Artibus Exornata E Tabula Guidonis Reni 9 Pedes Et 6 Digits Alta & Pedes Lata In Aedibus Regus Kensington conservata

This print depicts the oil painting now known as 'The toilet of Venus', in the collection of the National Gallery, London. It is now attributed to the school of Guido Reni, rather than to Reni himself.

Collection
Ether Teeming With Weighty Happening
Vivian Lynn Ether Teeming With Weighty Happening

Vivian Lynn is highly regarded for her feminist art, particularly her 1982 installation Guarden Gates, which explored the cultural stages of female life. In the late 1960s and early 70s, printmaking dominated Lynn’s practice and she produced numerous abstract compositions in a variety of print mediums, including etching, screenprints and relief prints. This work was acquired by Muir from Christchurch’s Graphic Gallery which, as the name implies, specialised in exhibiting New Zealand prints. (1969 Comeback Special 27 August – 6 November 2016)

Collection
Three Bathers
John Buckland Wright Three Bathers

During the 1950s John Buckland Wright produced a number of prints in which female figures appear on deserted beaches. He has given a classical, idealised feeling to this work with the elegant poses of the bathers, the robes on the figure in the foreground and the tranquil setting. Buckland Wright was a significant figure in British printmaking and book illustration during the first half of the 20th century. Although self-taught, he displayed a masterly technique. His detailed work was ideally suited to the woodcut medium. Born in Dunedin, Buckland Wright travelled to England with his mother and siblings after his father died in 1901. During World War One he was awarded the Croix de Guerre for gallantry. Buckland Wright worked as an oil painter, etcher and engraver. He exhibited with the London Group and the Society of Wood Engravers and his book illustrations were done largely with the Golden Cockerel Press. From 1948 he taught at both the Camberwell School of Art and the Slade School of Art.