B S Thompson reports:
Summer is always an exciting time to be in Wellington and theres nothing I like doing more than taking the afternoon off, meeting a friend for coffee, then doing the rounds of the dealer galleries, you just never know what youll find No, but honestly, after the pre-Christmas glut I really thought I was over skulking about nibbles tables, stocking up on glasses before drinks ran dry A few months later things are still quiet, no mammoth Tuesday nights carousing back and forth across Cuba Street to boast of. Theres the odd book launch or Peter McLeavey Saturday 11am openings: quiet, pleasant, if perplexing, affairs.
So what to write of in Wellington? Attention has been focused on the Enjoy project of Cuba Street, as an artist-run ground-breaker for Wellington. Actual content has been largely ignored, not surprisingly, as the line up so far is a rather sorry collection, most commonly design students breaking out into the fine arts field. This has seemed at odds with the apparent vision of the gallery, as what many believe the city so desperately needs is a space for fledgling artists, preferably run by artists. Wellington, however, is relatively free of such individuals. The Enjoy team, hailing from Christchurch, perhaps made an oversight here, presuming Wellington to be a fertile ground for such a project.
Indeed the Wellington scene is composed of design school staff. No, the melodramas and posturings of K Road are not ours. The Enjoy people themselves are all pleasant individuals, holding down day jobs. They are a few years too old for the brattish rebellion that spawned similar projects in Auckland and Dunedin nor do they have the connections and funding of, say, The Physics Room.
Indeed a large faction dismay at the uncomfortable reality of the Wellington scene, if we can call it that. Fostering a creative village is healthier, apparently, than a dealer community. Contrary to their hopes, Wellington is a dealer town of art lovers, not creators, hence, the posse with the most clout will be catered for. Why not celebrate what only Wellington seems to do with any panache? Has Auckland or Christchurch a collection of celebrated personalities given such affectionate disdain as Peter McLeavey or Hamish McKay? The matronly directors of our public institutions wield real power. You wont catch Cheryl, Jenny or Paula begging over a sandwich board - there are no sandwich boards.
McLeavey has long been an easy target for terms such as tired, boring, or even a sell out, yet he carries on with the pragmatic blend of conservatism and risky flashes that has seen him through from 68 till the present. Yes, we realise hes an institution, the fact is, he is our institution, so lay off!!
McLeavey brings a rare grace to a nasty business, as can be seen by anyone attending one of his openings. One is greeted at the door by McLeavey or his charming wife, offered a drink, and perhaps asked advice on the nights speech to be delivered from his famous soapbox. Reliability and charm demonstrate how McLeavey has lasted the 33 years and others, like the New Work Studio, well, lets just ignore them shall we?
Lissa Mitchell reports:
Sean Kerr scoring the booty in the dubiously titled multimedia section of the New Zealand Portrait Gallerys Biannual Portrait Competition has worked wonders for his new media career. Like the snowball on the Lifeline ad, gathering size and momentum, the summer residency at Artspace in Sydney came hot on its heels - we love winners. Of the nine or so entries, all except Kerrs seemed to understand multimedia as a new term for mixed media and continued to mix pastel with paint. But even in more hardy circles, video, restyled as new media, seems to be the conceptual limit of contemporary art in NZ.
Enjoy have been a welcome addition to the circuit. Roz Cameron took the windows out for their first show. Later projects included Chris Clements filling the place with vegetables, John Lake melting hokey pokey ice cream and the unlabelled fundraiser auction. However, Enjoy does tend to combine hushed excitement for artists with reckless shortcuts into design.
During the Christmas season Peter Robinson visited Peter McLeaveys floor. The group show at the Hirschfeld/360 seemed to suggest that Lara Strongman and the City Gallery are taking an overdue interest in a diverse amount of new contemporary art in Wellington.
As the summer became cold and dry, I sought warmth and moisture and ended up at an anti-climax - Group Sex: Erotic Art by Consensual Participants at the One Eye Gallery. The show featured a well-executed creation - an art controversy in the media (no doubt aided by the inclusion of photographs by journalist Mark Amery). Poor old Graeme Capill went to all the trouble of marching his band of soldiers up to the gallery, but they had to retreat - a force reeling from the shock of defeat. With titles that read like Naked Soul Dance, Ladder of Desire, Sexfruit and Standing Tall one might have thoughtsometimes civilian sex is just too ugly. However, there was the complex Love Sick Pinky and Pinky finds the Masks. Most of the work represented a frustrating sense of exhibition anxiety. Evening Post reviewer Tom Cardy reckoned the show was on the sublime level of bathroom graffiti, but I think it was too self aware to be as fascinating or, even, edgy. There were a couple of exceptions though - the work of Paul Johns and Maiangi Waitai.
home and away arrived at the City Gallery. On opening night, curator William McAloon stood on the sidelines, while Chris Saines and Paula Savage publicly congratulated themselves. However, the exhibition looked great. Thoughtful choice had been put into the selection and arrangement of works hanging together in the separate wings of the gallery. A touring project that is a few years old, home and away represents an historical perspective on the range of work collected by Rob Gardiner and known publicly as the Chartwell Trust.
Alongside home and away, the sudden passing of Les Paris on the 27th of December was marked with a selection of three works purchased by Les and Milly hung solemnly in the City Gallery foyer - Peter Peryer's portrait Les and Milly Paris (1989), Gavin Hipkins The Oval (1998), and Milan Mrkusichs Painting (1971).
Meanwhile, group shows have started off the year at Hamish McKays. High Anxiety was a chance to revisit Kathy Temins Yellow and Black Corner Problem (1992) and some of Ronnie Van Houts vast oeuvre. Also included was a series of acrylics on paper from 1991/92 by Michael Harrison. After that, Mikala Dwyer breezed in with a show of Sydney artists, including ex-Wellington girl Shay Launder who stole the show.
At the Film Centre, 1951 explored the history - both leading up to and beyond - the 51 Waterfront despute. And lastly, vistors to the Adam Art Gallery are being treated to Colonial trompe l'il drawings, an historical sample of New Zealand trompe l'il. The show is accompanied by a book of the same title by curator Roger Blackley.
B S Thompson lives in Brooklyn and Lissa Mitchell lives in Porirua.