Posts Tagged ‘Van Hout’

Broadcasting from a new location

I’ve moved house and although I posted a few entries here about not needing an office, I actually have ended up with a room of my own with a view (apologies to Woolf and Forster). I haven’t set it up yet, but the unpacking has begun.

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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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My world

Well battling on through the school holidays has taken a bit of energy. I have been confronted with all sorts of dilemmas, including how to get caramel off a guinea pig (basically you can’t) but some interesting things have come my way.

Firstly I have managed to organise a trip to Christchurch for the closing weekend of the Ronnie van Hout exhibition at the Christchurch Art Gallery and I’ll be able to see their other shows too. This is very exciting and I have to thank FlyBuys, The Airpoints Fairy and Hotel So for making it possible – as well as my partner for taking care of the kids of course. I can’t wait to get there!

Also we are looking at moving to a bigger house – much much bigger and with LAND. While its still all at the “I am dreaming” stage, the way the house and land is positioned strongly reminds me of this – even the mown bit:

Christina’s World(1948) Andrew Wyeth. Collection of MOMA

I have also been thinking about quiet artists. An Aunt of mine who died very recently was an artists but would never call herself that. She had an amazing sense of style and colour, and an incredible eye. She was passionate and had a multitude of enthusiasms which carried you along with her. In the 1970s she became a skilled weaver, often dyeing and spinning wools herself. I remember helping to collect specific lichens and leaves for her dyes. Not very many years ago she quietly told me that the Dowse* had once bought some of her textile work. She moved on from weaving and turned to photography and took stunning pictures. I think she was part of a camera club and exhibited a few pictures there but for the most part, her art simply stayed at home on her walls. I guess she was a ‘hobby artist’ but her output belied that. An author told me a while back, that there are many excellent writers who would never dare publish and I wonder about these quiet artists as well. Not the art society watercolourists, but people just producing quite wonderful art for themselves.

* I really should check if they still have it.

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I heard Kim Hill’s interview with Peter Peryer last Saturday morning (audio here) and she kept asking him why?, why? does he take these photos. I’ve been thinking on this and wonder, does it even matter? Perhaps “What?” is the more relevant question.

In recent discussions about good/bad art some one said “What is the artist trying to do and do they achieve that?” which seems a more basic question. But do we even need to know that?

Kim Hill seemed concerned about why Peryer would photograph this chicken. I am glad he did – for it is unlikely I would see a chicken in this way. As I’ve said before a favourite photo is of whitebait but I am also very fond of this.

In art photography it has always seemed to me that the photographs enable me to see through another’s eyes. This gives me a hugely varied outlook – a new way of seeing. What might be interesting (and it may have been done) is to ask some top photographers to photograph the same thing or perhaps give them a theme. The variety that would come back would be amazing – I would expect.

In fact doesn’t all art provide us with another person’s take on the world? I am doing my best to get to Christchurch at the moment* so I can see the Christchurch Art Gallery’s “Big 3” shows – Ronnie Van Hout, Seraphine Pick and et al. These three contemporary New Zealand artists (and collectives) illustrate their world so different they are perfect examples of my point.

I have been taking photos lately of local scenes that artists such as McCahon have painted.  Even taking ‘artistic license’ into account, its interesting to me how differently these painters have seen the landscape – recognisable but not…I wonder if they were trying to make sense of their world by interpretation, as I am.

Milhouse Van Hout(en) – a distant relative of Ronnie’s (because I am trying to be good about not nicking images off the interwebs of artists’ work)

*Any donations towards travel expenses happily accepted

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Gothic NZ

My dear friend Helen came around today to help me separate emotion from inanimate objects. It was very ‘cleansing’ and we managed to get rid of heaps of stuff*. However at one point, looking out my front window onto the 1970s beige neighbourhood, she said something like “you really are deep in suburbia here…”

I have just re-read Janet Frames “The Carpathians” and have decided it captures suburban gothic very well. This is also funny because of Helen’s recent birthday trip to Levin where the book is unmistakeably set. Frame’s snapshot of Kowhai Street is so real that the unusual events don’t seem so unusual, and knowing Levin well myself, quite believable.

So it was serendipitous that the book Gothic NZ arrived from the library today. A great essay by Mischa Kavka “Out of the Kitchen Sink”  completely encapsulated the feeling of darkness hidden behind closed doors. The book as a whole is pretty good but certain parts really capture the curious suburban gothic that I keep running into and also how gothic tendrils extend out into the countryside. There were also various examples of NZ art with a similar tone including Yvonne Todd’s photos, working “a fine tension between the conventional and the creepy“. Maybe I am reading it wrong, but I’d put a great deal of Ronnie van Hout’s work in this category as well.

Of course our film-makers do a good line in gothic too. A funny moment this morning was when going through my old my tramping gear, Helen and I both exclaimed “Vigil!” as I pulled out a large green woolen balaclava.

Still from Vincent Ward’s film “Vigil

*However it has left me very tired and probably not making a lot of sense

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Poetry Break

For ages I have been trying to track down a poem I remembered by Sam Hunt about Wellington. Initially I thought it would have been in “Big Weather: Poems of Wellington” but I think that book is a bit well mannered. So I have finally found it on my book shelf (!) in “Running Scared” (1982) which I’ve had for ever.

Wellington Farewell

A proper old bitch, this town. Like,
when I was young I used to hike
four hundred miles south to be with her.
Because they were hers, I liked the people here.

Like that for years, happy together.
Guests would moan over the weather
just as they would the wind rain and sleet,
our drunken friends, our steep dizzy streets.

We laughed when they left, like we had the shakes
TV news would report Wellington quakes
7.5 on the Richter Scale.
I called up heaven once, demanding bail

Then she one day turned sour on me. ‘Dont ever think
love lasts forever’ said my shrink
‘To survive’ he said, ‘you must learn to hate.
learn that, boy before it’s too late.’

Friends assure, her bite’s as bad as her bark.
I stalk her streets, Sundays take my son to the park.
A northerner is urging, come on home,
return to the north, leave the old bitch her bone.

And that’s where I am, resting half way between,
looking face-down over a stream
that moves under weed, like looking for cover.
What love must be like when it’s over.

Personally I think there is a lot of “a proper old bitch” about this town, but like a distant relative I will decline to name, I quite admire that.

And in the “interesting art” basket, Belgian artist Benjamin Verdonck brings his oversized nest to the Weena in Rotterdam.

Also I have FINALLY got around to watching the first episode of New Artland online, which was about Ronnie van Hout erecting a plaque outside his childhood home. It was terrific!

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As mentioned in my last post yesterday I went to the collectors talk of Reboot at the City Gallery. In hindsight I should have allowed myself more time and scoped out the exhibition first nonetheless it was a pretty great afternoon.

To ‘reboot’ a computer system is to hit the on-switch and set its programme going again. Bringing together 100 works by 40 artists, Reboot showcases art that wants us to look twice and think again.

I find contemporary and more conceptual art challenging and this blog reflects some of that in my constant questioning of ‘what is art?”. I am also on an art journey as I am learning so much as I explore these questions. It was wonderful to hear some of my personal questions and issues voiced and discussed. For example impermanence, outsourcing and ideas behind collections and owning art. So “look twice and think again” – yes.

Jim Barr is a great story-teller and his explanation of conceptual art, illustrated (literally) with Martin Creed’s Work 132: A lamp going on and off (2003) certainly lit a bulb above my head. I always thought I was missing something, but its so simple, you really do buy an idea. I love this, really – and after that it mostly fell into place for me. I think the object groupings by curator Justin Paton were somewhat lost on me because I was a bit overwhelmed once the ideas started to hit me and wandered around a little ‘spaced’ but predictably I liked the homages (or not) to McCahon.

My personal taste is in a slightly different arena I guess, but there were small moments of wonder to be found here and I doubt I will approach contemporary art the same way again. There is so much to say but a highlight was the owner touching and ‘interacting’ (ok – rearranging) the works – something I always want to do and almost got kicked out of the Henry Moore exhibition at Te Papa for doing (for %^&$# sake – it was a few tonnes of bronze!!). It was interesting to see the small Ronnie van Hout work of Colin McCahon “action figure” because I saw this in an exhibition at Pataka – “Its a Small world” about 5 years ago. Also fascinated by comments about works standing up to the rigours of handling. I am a fan of imperfection and this made me wonder how long I could really live with something as ‘clean’ as a Walters? Often the art I like would fall into the “conservation nightmare” grouping.

And of course a surreal moment, like the start of a bad joke “A housewife, a librarian and an art collector walk into a gallery…” (liberties taken with job descriptions).

I wonder how it would have been to see this show without the talk first? I think I need to go back and look some more but the chance is slim. I also need to budget to get a copy of the catalogue ($20) and research the original Good Work exhibition (contrast and compare).

Interestingly just going back to Wellington was challenging. I think I finally have to admit that I am not a 20-something, urban-dwelling, corporate IT geek anymore – far from it.  And I think there is such a thing as TOO MUCH public art.

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