The amazing Christchurch Art Gallery is the gallery that could. It’s the gallery that still operates to an amazing level even when its closed.
It is the public gallery that has just managed to raise over $200,000 to bring Michael Parekowhai’s Chapman’s Homer permanently to Christchurch via the Pledge Me Back The Bull campaign.
So why did I, a resident of Dunedin, back the bull?
Well the artwork is awesome. Ok that is trite, I found this work deeply moving. It is so unsubtley strong but attenuated by the delicacy of a concert grand piano, albeit a bronze one. The bull is undoubtedly a strong statement and pianos can be either. In this case the strength to support a bull but also capable of calm and storm (videos feature another Parekowhai Piano). Christchurch seems to have taken this work to its heart.
Why Christchurch? Well they WANT it, in fact the Director of CAG, Jenny Harper, obviously wants it a lot. The letter about my initial donation was hand signed (not a printed sig) and also had a personal note. That’s dedication. I ended up deciding to donate more. The CAG has always seemed to me intent on creating relationships with it’s audience. There is give and take and it has always felt personal and warm and truly invested. I don’t know how they managed this, but that is my relationship with CAG and I don’t even live in Christchurch. I am even a “Friend of the Gallery”….They are doing something very very right. It’s not that others don’t care, but many galleries have a ‘take us or leave us’ attitude, or something horribly one sided. I see change but I admit, my heart belongs to CAG. And, after a loooong time I am finally able and very happy to give back to them. Also I can always visit…
Congratulations to the Christchurch Art Gallery and to Christchurch. And a huge pat on the back to staff but especially Jenny Harper, who wanted this to happen, and made it happen.
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So to the art….after kimchi at the Arts Centre Market (I also travel for Korean food) I went direct to the hallowed halls of The Christchurch Art Gallery.
The problem with going to exhibitons nearing the end of their run is that you may have read all the reviews and been unduly influenced. I tried to put any prior knowledge aside as I toured the galleries though. After the fact it was very useful to read the gallery’s bulletins B.157 & B.158 though.
It was the closing weekend of the Ronnie van Hout show “Who goes there’. I am not a HUGE van Hout fan but I enjoy some of his work. I did like the focus of this show which I am not sure is just indicative of his latest output or selected that way. There seems to be a sharpened focus on ‘self’, although it’s always been a prominent theme. Standout for me was ‘The Thing’ from the artist’s Antarctic experience which was more disturbing than it should have been. Also the video works in the foyer of the artist knocking on his own door (no answer) was affecting. Even with the humourous subjects there was a subtle menace to it all. To me, the sound from ‘Bedsit’ underlined this atmosphere. I am glad I didn’t miss the peep show either.
Next was Seraphine Pick. I was really interested in seeing this retrospective, after the tiny Pick show I saw at the Mahara Gallery in 2008. I hate to say it, but this exhibition didn’t enthrall me. It was ‘more of the same’ and seemed quite rambling. However, I was taken by her more recent works and the “Zombies round the Campfire’ painting (sorry can’t recall the name) made a lasting impression.
The last of the three major exhibitions on was et al’s Thats Obvious! That’s Right! That’s True! Entering this exhibition was my meaningful art moment of 2009. I was really looking forward to this as I had not seen an et al installation before and I was not disappointed. ‘People in the know’ have told me this work is great but not the greatest of et al. I was completely floored by it though. I guess my impression was of an Orwellian New Zealand of an 1984 nature. I was confused, informed, disoriented, assaulted with audio/visual material, lectured…. Although many other visitors seemed to walk in to the gallery space and straight back out, I was mesmerised by it all and it felt to me like the ultimate answer to the rather spurious “but is it art?” question (YES!, YES!, YES!).
At this point I was a bit of a stunned mullet and floated through the smaller exhibitions on the upper floors. Points to be noted here:
- The White on White show was a great idea and I thought a clever selection. Fun to see such diversity on a theme
- Cloud 9 was interesting and nice to see some emerging artists. I particularly wanted to see how Mike Cooke’s work held up in the gallery environment, having recently seen these two paintings in his studio. It worked very very well in my opinion.
I came back to the gallery the following day and managed to take in the tiny Gembox gallery then as well. Lovely plumage McCahon in there – and good to see a Lowry for the first time.
My second visit cemented my thoughts on the ‘Big Three’ Suite of exhibitions (van Hout, Pick, et al) . My main thought was how these artists all projected a (their?) view of the world and how diverse and distorted that was. I have talked before about photography being like looking directly through another pair of eyes, but I felt that through these shows I was seeing the mind games as well. Pick’s zombies, the multiple versions of van Hout and the et al sensory assault all seemed part of the same dream/nightmare place that most of us inhabit.
*Images from all these exhibitions can be found on the Christchurch Art Gallery website via the links included.
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Finally I get around to blogging this! Its been, as they say, a week of it!
First I should thank my sponsors. Flying around the place to look at art is not something I do routinely. In fact I realised the last time I was away from home over night without my kids was 3 year ago and that was work related. I had been saving up Flybuys points so I could get to Christchurch to see their big three winter exhibitions and ended up with only enough for a one way flight. I had considered an overnight bus option for return but I was incredibly lucky to win my return airfare via the AirpointsFairy on Twitter. Then I decided that I would splash out on my overnight trip and stay at a hotel rather than someones couch. The plan was quiet, non-kid interrupted sleep, writing and reading time. An e-friend had recommended HotelSo and I got a great deal on a room there.
I have to say this is a VERY cool little Hotel. It’s very central and was also a bit of colour in what I found to be a very grey Christchurch. The rooms are small (not quite a pod concept) but have more than everything you need. I was particularly interested in the design aspects – all created in house for this hotel. The bathroom modules are a great execution of the idea of form and function (I want one!). I was a bit worried that I might be too old and boring for this reportedly ‘funky’ hotel but not at all. The kind of place that had a young farmers event and a punk band staying at the same time – and you’d never know. Hotel SO is excellent value – I’d stay again in an instant. Oh and a shout out to the lovely service manager Chris who was a great help!
The pretty colours of my hotel – note the contrast with the GREY
Christchurch itself was a bit of a shock. I haven’t spent much time there for maybe 10 years but I’d forgotten the conformity, the grey, the little walls and everything in the central city so contained. Even the public art blended in. Thank heavens for the tiny bit of colour on Neil Dawson’s Chalice sculpture in the square. Regan Gentry’s Flour Power also seemed to flat and conservative and yet again – GREY. Nucleus by Phil Price which was near my hotel, was at least a bit brighter but what is it with all the pointy sculpture? I can only think it is in response to the taller buildings and lack of horizon? The current Kiosk was a disappointment
Anyway – very quickly I headed down to the ‘Cultural Precinct’ and Christchurch Art Gallery. I love this area of Christchurch (fond memories and all that). The Arts Centre is a favourite place and of course I had to check in with a former Clairmont residence near-by in Hereford street. I will talk about the shows in my next post but one exhibition made the entire trip worthwhile!
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Have just spent the weekend in Christchurch looking at art and meeting some lovely people. Full (and I mean full) reports to come, but I have just realised I have an assignment due today. This being the last bit of written work I need to do to complete a diploma, it has to take priority for now.
I’ll leave you with this:
I like to think they are rats but probably not – I suppose they’ll go clean it off now :-(
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