Posts Tagged ‘Parekowhai’

Why I Backed the Bull

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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I recently picked up a clearance copy of Hemingway’s “Death in the Afternoon“. I like Hemingway  although I prefer his writing when less blustering and more sentimental. My favourite Hemingway book is “Islands in the Stream“, and I wonder if it was not published during his lifetime because it is such a tender book in places, as well as a great fishing/action/adventure yarn. One day I will visit Bimini although the hotel burnt down in 2006.

The photos in “Death in the Afternoon” are quite special, no matter your position on bull fighting. I feel they illustrate the horror of the sport as well as the glory. I particularly “like” the caption of one photo “Granero dead in the infirmary. Only two in the crowd are thinking about Granero. The others are all intent on how they will look in the photograph.

These photographs were in my mind when I happened to be in Wellington of the opening weekend of Michael Parekowhai’s “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer” at Te Papa. I managed to have a few hours spare to really spend some time looking around and I also made a point of seeing Fiona Pardington’s Flora,Fauna at {Suite} Gallery which was truly wonderful.

I had read a lot on-line about Parekowhai’s pianos and bulls and was interested in their current incarnation after seeing photos of the Venice Biennale arrangements and the gift to Christchurch of a partially outdoor installation

Michael Parekowhai’s On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer, Christchurch 2012

On Sunday afternoon, as I approached the long gallery at Te Papa I was disconcerted to hear a young voice singing Adele’s “Someone Like You” with piano accompaniment. Oh dear! but the cluster of bulls and pianos at one end of the gallery had such great impact, that I forgot about Adele for a minute.

Parekowhai installation at Te Papa

Another player soon took a seat at the red Steinway (He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: Story of a New Zealand river) and launched into a passionate rendition of….well I’m not sure really. I like to think it as Rachmaninov because 25 years ago I worked with a very very kiwi bloke kind  of guy who would sit at any available piano and very play amazing classical music – usually Rachmaninov – and this reminded me of Russell. All the while, a logo’d Te Papa person circled, taking photographs.

My reaction was very similar to that of Best of 3, who wrote about her experience beautifully.

I don’t think I have ever been so moved in a museum. There was something about the way that people’s individual reactions and responses built into a collective experience that just opened my heart. It made me realise just what power artists have, that they can make occasions like this for us. Parekowhai is quoted on the exhibition info panel as saying There is no object I could make … that could fill a room like sound can.”

yes I cried….it was so moving and I felt overcome by thoughts about of my last few years…life the universe and everything. It also reminded me of saying goodbye to McCahon’s Northland Panels at Te Papa when I left the North Island. I cried then too.

There was a small emotional death for me this August afternoon, with a powerful piano soundtrack played on a carved red piano and with 2 large blackened bulls as harbingers of something ominous. Like the photo in Hemingway’s book, I felt that only I am thinking about the future. The others are all intent on how they will look in the photograph.

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Speak to me

I managed to get into Dunedin Art Gallery today, although I was “on the clock” so to speak, so it was a rushed trip.

I revisited ‘Beloved’ and apart from still really disliking the New Sensations room, I was again amazed at the depth of the collection. Spiritualized – the ramp with Michael Parekowhai’s The Bosom of Abraham work leading you down to McCahon’s Veronica is inspired.

I wanted to see Wayne Barrar’s ‘An Expanding Subterra‘ exhibition of photographs. It was good, but for me, raised the issue of whether this kind of photography is documentary or art or perhaps both?

Heather Straka’s The Asian was the treat. This was an exhibition that needed no interpretation for me (although there is an excellent one here by David Eggleton). The 50 (51 including the original?) paintings say it all. To what end though?

I did a drive by of the infamous Regan Gentry teeth (at the mouth of the harbour). There were HEAPS of people parked and looking at them which I guess must be good for public art. I will go back and look closer, but on first glance I wondered “where are the gums?” and felt maybe they would have been better set into the ground a bit.

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Art hard at work

Over the Net have a series about art working hard in the foyers of the world. Me, I’m more of a coffee shop girl.

Michael Parekowhai’s Ed Brown at Strictly Coffee, Dunedin

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How inspiring…

I am trying to be on my best behaviour today so I can get to the City Gallery tomorrow and if I am VERY lucky Schoon at Te Papa and Helen Hitchings even. Fingers crossed…(Bunnies are good luck aren’t they?)

Michael Parekowhai, Cosmo, 2006

So last weekend I heard Harvey Benge on Saturday Morning with Kim Hill.” Harvey Benge has been working full time as a camera artist from Auckland and Paris since 1992, mainly through published work…His new book, A Short History of Photography is a photographic anthology of contemporary photography.” You can hear the audio here (for a few weeks anyway). What I like about this book is that is openly addressing that issue many photographers have taking a photo that is much like someone elses. ” All photographers do this, and if the photograph in question apes another photographer too closely, it’s usually a cause for rejection. But Benge did the opposite. Picking out his ‘Friedlander’ and his ‘Parr’ and his ‘Baltz’ he decided to make an ‘anthology’ of contemporary photography featuring some of its biggest names. Yet they are all genuine, original Benges. They are also all good pictures, not mere pastiches of the ‘originals’ of which they gently but insistently remind one.  This weekend Kim also had a great chat with Gregory O’Brien about his new book Back & Beyond: New Zealand Painting for the Young & Curious.

I am SO glad that webcasts exist. Saturday mornings are a madhouse here usually, so now I can go back and listen to things later on. Also once I figure out my firewall settings I will also be able to watch New Artland (currently on TVNZ6). Yesterday I also stumbled upon The Museum Detective which is a blog and a series of ‘podcasts’ about museum and art things around NZ which are just great. Although it may be just that the subjects interest me. There was an good interview with Peter Peryerwhich also touched upon the issues of ubiquitous photographs, in his case the rocks and autumn tones of Central Otago.

In order to get out tomorrow I am forgoing the RAY opening at the Mahara Gallery tonight. Another ‘inspired’ exhibition, Real Art Youth is a selection of student artwork from the Greater Wellington in response to the The Real Art Roadshow. I am really interested to see this show as I have been distracted on yet another tangent recently about viewer response to artworks. When I visited Chris White at Cobalt, he made a polite comment about my reading of one of his works (I was heavily influenced by the Sinfonia Antarctica exhibition at the time) and then yesterday I read an interpretation of something I had written, which picked up on an element I hadn’t noticed myself which fascinated me. So I am curious to see what students have made of these (major) works. 

EDIT: Before anyone worries about me living in some sort of dictatorship, the reason getting to anything is difficult is because there is only so much childcare time and petrol money to go round so even a minor trip requires lots of planning :-)


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Art and Politics

I heard somewhere this week that the peace symbol was having its 50th birthday. I was surprised that its not some organic hippy creation but designed in 1958 by Gerald Holtom, a professional designer and artist.

 So what about political or protest art here. I read recently that “political art is so last century” which seems a little odd as there still seems a lot to protest about. And if you take this view then all art is political “It may well be that an artist can realize aesthetic triumphs while ignoring society, but willful unconcern regarding social matters is also a political position.”

Maybe protest is just a little passe, so I looked back to some major political events ‘last century’, inspired by seeing the Hotere Land of the Wrong White Crowd piece at Te Manawa recently, in protest against the 1981 Springbok tour. Hotere also did his Aramoana works in protest of the proposed smelter being built there, Black Rainbow for the Rainbow Warriror sinking and some more recent ‘Jerusalem‘ works in reaction to events in the Middle East.

Black Union Jack
Black Union Jack, Ralph Hotere

I guess my era was that of the the end of the Vietnam war, the Land March, Bastion Point and the Springbok Tour and that seemed a fertile ground for artists. I was looking for images from Clairmont’s “No Tour” exhibition, as he was heavily involved in the protests but can’t seem to find any – although his Vietnam pictures are about. Ans Westra, Marti Friedlander and Gill Hanly’s photography is particularly strong of the 1981 tour.

So I am thinking…is this a 20th century phenomena? Where is today’s political/protest art or is it just more subtle?  I get the BIG obvious stuff (like Parekowhai) and I did take note of Aniwaniwa by Brett Graham and Rachael Rakena, so perhaps I am just missing it.

Also, was there ever an exhibition of 1981 Sprinbok tour protest art? – there’s a lot about. Would have thought it might have been done in 2006?


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In the world of contemporary art there seems to be a trend of ‘outsourcing’. For example, if Michael Parekowhai had actually made his 10 Guitars himself, then the work would have taken an age to create, so he outsourced much of the work and then just did the assemblage. Which is the same as Billy Apple and his sign-writer.  A good explanation I found was likening it to an architect designing a house but employing a builder to construct it – which makes perfect sense. To some this is anathema, as the artist is also supposed to also be the craftsman. It takes fine art into a design arena, where the artist as the conceptual designer (writer/director) who may not be directly involved in the execution (the actor).

Patriot: Ten Guitars
 (1999) Michael Parekowhai

But its not that much different to the studios of the great masters where perhaps you could never be sure by whose hand a painting in its entirety was done. In that case sometimes the ‘master’ was just an overseer or quality control. For example works completed in the main by Rembrandt are actually quite rare.

The applied arts (and crafts) we assume are different where the artist IS the craftsperson, but maybe not. I stumbled upon a new concept (to me) this week of Ponoko the cutting edge of the post-industrial revolution that is changing the way products are created, traded and distributed…bringing personal manufacturing of individualized products to the masses.

What intrigues me is their use of the term “mass individualisation“. OK so a designer probably isn’t too worried about making their product and just producing it en-masse and this is a space to try things out before demand is going to require outsourcing to China or somewhere for economic reasons. The advantage here is for people like me who think “I love that lamp but I’d like it 2 inches shorter and in mauve, with maybe a atomic motif” and you can just alter the design to fit your requirements.

For conceptual artists it could be used to make elements of an artwork to be customised and individualised later, or even limited edition works to be hand numbered.  If the materials and techniques available were expanded I think Ponoko could get wider use in an artistic sense. But for the applied artist or craftsperson is it valid to be outsourcing, even just elements? And if it isn’t valid then what about craft made from ‘found ‘ or recycled objects. Then the craft is accepted as being how these items are used.


I am putting a bob each way. I like an artwork that has had life breathed into it by the artist, a hunk of canvas smeared with paint with a finger print or two, a sculpture that’s been bled over. BUT from a design point of view getting someone else to do the ‘tricky bits’ can make sense too. I don’t love Apple’s work any less knowing he didn’t do the painting himself, but I perceive it on a different level.

Personally, I am just waiting for someone like Ponoko to allow me to design and build my own giant inflatable animal art.

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