When asked about one of my favourite things I realise it is a John Coltrane moment rather than a Julie Andrews one, not that I don’t have a soft spot for that woman. But like when Coltrane takes a little song and it can span a whole album side, or more, I have more than a few favourite things in the Gallery.
I mentioned to a few people that I had been asked to do this and they jokingly suggested Cass or Tomorrow will be the same but not as this is, which I like to call Tomorrow never knows. But I said, ‘No. I have a thing which has been a secret love for a long time with a personal sonic connection. Besides A Constant Flow has better light and there are two works called Cass in the Gallery—don’t you know,’ (said the Gruffalo).
So I thought of my favourite work, Carl Sydow, Construction I, and my connections with it, and the magic of the retrospective show in 1979 when I first encountered it. The catalogue of that 1979 show is online; one of those fantastic hidden treasures that the Gallery website has.
But when I told the Gallery of my choice they came back and said, ‘Well the photo we have is a bit lacklustre, and, um, we can’t get to the work to photograph it right now’.
And here I was hoping I might be able to go in behind the scenes and pluck the springs. With white gloves on of course. I wanted to explore memories of how my relationship with the work was established and what burning sonic secrets we held. Another work by the same artist was proposed, kind of similar but there was a good image. But it didn’t do it for me. I could never have touched the springs of this work as it was enclosed in Perspex, not that I had touched the other one. But I am super keen to see if both these two works appear in the reopened Gallery.
So I went back and tried to think what else was special for me. I have blurred memories of the Gallery spaces, and the recently reconfigured permanent collection hang that had just happened before all those quivery things. And then I felt a great sense of loss. I have always enjoyed visiting the Gallery and seeing changing shows, and I had become very accustomed to some of the treasures: the McCahons, the Anguses, the Warhol, and the Lowry et al. And I admit I even miss the glimpse of The Dutch funeral and Otira and that nudie by the boat. It was a sad reminder that this work has been out of bounds for the City for five years.
Rewinding Gallery visits in my mind I remembered some great shows, and some misses, and the sheer joy of meandering through the permanent collection, mostly the contemporary bit, hoping there was a change, a new work or a new juxtaposition, a little pun that was maybe in my head only. I was looking for my madeleine moment out of all the memories. Then it hit me. That other Cass and the other Anguses. The unsung best show that the Gallery has had, To the Unknown New Zealander, an exhibition by Julian Dashper.
My first encounter with Dashper was a show at the Brooke Gifford, I don’t remember the work but I had a nice meal afterwards with art student friends, Dashper, and John Reynolds. The first work I remember was the exhibition Slide Show at the Annex in 1992. At the same time The Anguses were being shown across town in a bookshop opposite Dashper's dealer gallery, having been rejected by the Robert McDougall Art Gallery. One person’s experience with The Anguses at Smith’s Bookshop is lovingly told by Peter Vangioni in the catalogue for To The Unknown New Zealander, including an analysis of the meaning of the missing cymbals.
Fifteen years later the Gallery mounted To the Unknown New Zealander. The five drumkits of The Big Bang Theory were displayed around the Gallery, with the tour de force being The Anguses lovingly situated in front of not just Cass but a wall of works by Angus. The Anguses and The Anguses rocked!
Sadly the Gallery does not own a Dashper drum kit. But they do own a drumhead, dramatically titled Untitled. Dashper died too soon, but he left behind a charming collection of work. I hope we see more of his work at the reopened Gallery. Looking back through the catalogue for Slide Show, I see Dashper had a timely last word for Christchurch; ‘Watch the donut and not the hole’.
Paul Sutherland is one of New Zealand's pioneering sound artists having begun experimenting in the early 1980s with modified electronic noises. He performed and recorded solo and in a number of avant-garde freeform bands such as The Incidentals and Don't Make Noise. He has also made sonic sounds in the legendary Christchurch band Into The Void since its inception in 1987.
Marie Shannon: The Aachen Faxes, Christchurch remix
Marie Shannon's sound work contemplates love, loss, and the longing for emotional connection across distance.
Sydow: Tomorrow Never Knows
1960s London set the scene for Carl Sydow’s playful, op-inspired sculptures.
Selwyn Toogood, Levin
I spent much of my adolescence in hospital, confined to bed due to a chronic illness. With a 14" TV beside me, I’d travel to imaginary places via the controller of my Nintendo games console. At the time, I couldn’t imagine walking to the letterbox, let alone experiencing the more exotic places of the world.
Peter Stichbury's NDE
Anna Worthington chooses her favourite work from the Gallery collection.
The pleasure of making: objects taking centre stage in the space of the art gallery
Was it serendipity that the opening of Christchurch Art Gallery's Burster Flipper Wobbler Dripper Spinner Stacker Shaker Maker coincided with that of Slip Cast, a group exhibition at the Dowse Art Museum that also focused on the pleasure that artists take in manipulating materials in the process of making art?
New Zealand in the Biennale of Sydney and the Biennale of Sydney in New Zealand
and the Biennale of Sydney in New Zealand
The New Plymouth-based Don Driver worked from the mid-1970s until the 1990s on sculptural assemblages made from found materials. Echoing the work of American pop artist Robert Rauschenberg, whose work Driver had experienced while visiting New York in 1965, Energy Triad makes assertive use of familiar, locally sourced items, placing pioneering farming tools alongside advertising and road signage, all with a meticulous eye to formal balance and arrangement.
British artist Bridget Riley is a leading name in the op art movement. Her work came to international attention in 1965 when included in an exhibition called The Responsive Eye at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, alongside artists including Victor Vasarely and Josef Albers.
Riley’s earliest op art paintings in black and white had a major impact on 1960s fashion, advertising and design. She increasingly used colour in her work from 1967 onwards, when she also began using simplified forms, often vertical straight or wavy lines, and colour variation and contrast that produced a sense of movement.
The repurposed drumskin became a signature motif for Auckland-based Julian Dashper, whose conceptual art practice saw him develop an international exhibiting profile in the United States, Australia and Europe, before his untimely death in 2009.
Resonating with the American pop artist Jasper Johns’ 1950s target paintings, Dashper’s drumskin canvases were also made to honour a band of New Zealand’s pioneering modernists. In 1992 The Big Bang Theory saw him assembling full drumkits emblazoned with his heroes’ names: The Anguses, The Hoteres, The Colin McCahons, The Woollastons and The Drivers.
Packed with an energetic sense of movement, Simon Morris’s painting gives the effect of a boldly rhythmic musical score. Its pattern, appearing at first to be random or chaotic, is found to be sequenced and repeating, and with diagonals regularly breaking up the picture plane.
Morris builds on the legacy of pioneering New Zealand geometric abstractionists such as Carl Sydow and Gordon Walters. This optical sequence was generated by a mathematical formula, which he says “creates images that I wouldn’t come up with myself. It’s like the system partly makes the work.”
Carl Sydow has used these 20 cubes, each tilted onto one edge, to explore form, surface texture and the presence of objects within space. Taken individually, each object is distinct, as the 'light' falls in a different way on every surface, but together they form an engaging abstract pattern. Sydow created the work with a combination of precise ink drawing and the use of letrafilm, a system of ready-made transfers. The effect creates the illusion that the work is three-dimensional. Sydow's formal investigation of abstract properties such as colour, line, tone, volume and movement reflect the influence of Constructivism on his work. Born in Takapau, in the central Hawkes Bay, Sydow studied at the Schools of Fine Arts at both the University of Canterbury and Auckland University. After graduating, he went to the Royal College of Art, London, on an Arts Council grant from 1964 to 1966. Sydow regularly exhibited with The Group in Christchurch and was a founding member of the Sculptors’ Group, formed in 1970.
For the exhibition Untitled #1050 (25 November 2017 – 14 October 2018) this work was displayed with the following label:
“I like the rigorous quality of geometric abstract painting. I like the clarity of idea. I like the means used. I like the severity and the rigour of it. I don’t think this is a limitation. I think this is something which frees you to all kinds of investigation. It opens up all kinds of possibilities.”
—Gordon Walters, 1975
Miranda Parkes’ Slumper occupies its own unique territory, but might also be seen as the wayward love child of British op artist Bridget Riley and American pop artist Claes Oldenburg, best-known for his giant, painted soft sculptures. Slumper seems ready to enfold the viewer and also perfectly comfortable in its own billowing skin. (Op + Pop, 6 February – 19 June 2016)
New Zealand painter Gordon Walters started making his optically charged paintings in 1956, four years before the British painter Bridget Riley, op art’s principal exponent, began working with similar ideas. Walters’ explorations owed much to his study of Māori and Papua New Guinean art and their positive/ negative treatment of space, and to the abstract modernist painting he had seen while in Europe in 1950–51. Although best-known for his koru (fern bud motif ) paintings, his later, more simplified works remained equally visually challenging.
(Op + Pop, 6 February – 19 June 2016)
Roy Lichtenstein’s Flowers is art about art; a parody both of cubism and of the long-established still life genre. Lichtenstein was a leading figure in
the American pop art movement from the 1960s. He began making still lifes in 1972, riffing off artists such as Fernand Léger, Juan Gris, Henri Matisse and Piet Mondrian while applying his adaptation of graphic comic book style and commercial printing techniques.
Flowers exists in multiple versions. The screenprint (and a Christmas card) followed a much larger work in paper collage, tape and marker on card.
Closely associated with notions of fame and popular culture, Andy Warhol was a leading name in American pop art, and renowned for using the aesthetics of advertising and commercial printing techniques in his work.
Warhol’s screenprint of Mao Tse-Tung was made when communist China’s founder was still alive. It adapted a portrait that was used throughout China in veneration of its leader and his ideas. The blue-faced Chairman Mao is one of a series of colour variations Warhol created, all equally startling. He made similar portraits of American icons including Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley and Mickey Mouse.
Mark Braunias has applied a kind of speculative genetic engineering to the work of Walt Disney, Andy Warhol and the surrealist Jean Arp, resulting in giant, amoeba-like versions of comic-book characters that appear ready to spring to life. A master of reassemblage and reinvention, Braunias makes his ‘quick draw’ from a vast cache of popular cultural and historical sources, while applying a quiet dose of wry intent. (Op + Pop, 6 February – 19 June 2016)
Like a Gordon Walters painting doing the cancan, Julia Morison’s Tootoo makes ready to kick the high-minded formalism out of abstract painting and take the viewer on a wild, exhilarating dance. Folding and reversing on itself, and playing with positive and negative space, the work's elaborate structure creates a powerful visual conundrum. (Op + Pop, 6 February – 19 June 2016)
Neil Dawson’s sculptures consistently explore the slippage between appearance and reality. We think we see solid forms, but on closer inspection they turn out to be illusions.
Whiteout conveys Dawson’s fascination with these ideas and playfully challenges our perceptions of space and movement. This wall sculpture is reminiscent of the early structures of the Dadaists and Russian Constructivist sculptors Vladimir Tatlin (1885–1953) and Antoine Pevsner (1886–1962) in the early 20th century. Dawson is one of New Zealand’s leading contemporary site-specific artists. His innovative use of sculptural materials and principles of perspective are evident in this early example of his work.
Born in Christchurch, Dawson studied at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts and the National Gallery of Victoria Art School, Melbourne. He has exhibited widely and has several major public installations in New Zealand and internationally.
This work is one a series of screenprints, the name of which reflects Mervyn Williams’ love of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music and also refers to variations in colour. He has said that Chromatic Variations IX can be looked at as if it was a Tibetan mandala, rather than simply being a design. Williams’ painting and printing have always centred on formal abstraction. In the Chromatic Variations series he abstracted forms in a complex manner and experimented with different colours in each print. Williams was born in Whakatane in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. In 1956 he met artist Ted Dutch (b. 1928) who got him interested in silk-screen work. Williams studied at Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland. He won First Prize in the Graphic Section of the Hay’s Art Award in 1966 and was represented in the ‘International Biennale Exhibition of Graphic Art’ in Tokyo in 1966 and 1972. Williams also won the New Zealand Print Council Samarkand Award in 1969.
In Naturist Reuben Paterson revels in geometric patterns and sharp contrasts between black and white, reminiscent of 1960s hard-edged abstraction, op-art and Maori designs. The delicate, illusory effect Naturist has on the viewer is heightened by Paterson’s use of glitter, a recurring feature in his work.
Naturist draws on an installation at Riccarton House in 2004 where the artist created a black and white optical illusion of the landscape. Tapping into invisible, undulating energies left behind by Maori, Naturist is a study of how collective energies from the past are reflected in the land.
Paterson graduated from the Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland, in 1997. In the same year he was selected as one of three recipients of the Moet & Chandon Fellowship, awarding him a six-week residency in France.