A review on this recent group exhibition
SoFA Gallery, Christchurch
July 31 – August 30, 2009
What’s going on here? A simple straightforward exhibition of contemporary art - easy on the eye, without in-your-face offensive material – causes a sustained correspondence in the letters page of The Press. The letters were provoked by Andrew Paul Woods in his review ‘A lame-duck exhibition’, The Press, Christchurch, 5th August, 2009, which slated the show for lack of depth or exploration of connections between the artists or their time and place.
At first sight this was a compact show - not exactly a ‘best of’ but a satisfactory selection of the work of 15 currently practising New Zealand artists - made accessible to the general public for the Christchurch Arts Festival. But actually it was about the book. The problem was that this was not made obvious in the gallery – producing a sense of deception and even anger. To be fair, there was a book for sale in the background, along with the show catalogue, but the primacy of the book was just not made clear 'visually' in the layout of the show, as experienced by the viewer (rather than the organisers). Nor were relationships between the artists explored visually, as was done by the layout of 'Art School 125' at the Christchurch Art Gallery, Te Puna O Waiwhetu, in 2007 - admittedly a much larger project.
The broad aims of this project – exhibition and book – as stated in the publicity, were ‘to shed new light on aspects of contemporary art in New Zealand and to celebrate the excellence of living artists associated with the Canterbury region’.
What was made clear in the catalogue (but not by the exhibition) was that this project was essentially about the artists in their studios – the book is about 'Inner Landscapes' in that sense.
The book is perceptive and readable, especially Justin Paton’s essay. Unlike the exhibition, which had room for one work only for each artist, alongside the text of the essay were images of a variety of works by the 15 artists and some by other Canterbury artists, such as Bill Hammond and Pauline Rhodes, giving a much richer context and discussion. The images and interviews take the reader into each artist’s studio and the discussions of process will be of particular interest to other working artists.
It is a difficult task to represent artists by one work each and the choice seemed to me surprisingly interesting and fresh. I particularly enjoyed seeing Andrew Drummond’s 'for Rising and Falling, 2006-2009'. Darryn George was represented by 'Kete, 2008', described by Paton as ‘abstract circuitry’ The Christchurch Art Gallery is currently showing much fuller exhibitions of Ronnie van Hout and Seraphine Pick.
Nice show, but for insight read the book.
Reviewed and written by Janet Chambers
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