CURATORS Charlotte Day, Robert Leonard PARTNER Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne OTHER VENUES Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne, 13 February–16 April 2016; Christchurch Art Gallery, 1 April–16 July 2017; Dunedin Public Art Gallery, 12 August–26 November 2017 PUBLICATION texts Megan Dunn, Brian Griffiths, Hari Kunzru, Tessa Laird, Robert Leonard, Deborah Levy, David Mitchell, Ali Smith
Spanning twenty years of work, Jealous Saboteurs is the first survey exhibition of New Zealand-born sculptor Francis Upritchard. A graduate of Christchurch’s Ilam School of Fine Arts, she moved to London in 1998. There, she became one of our most successful overseas artists. However, she maintains a close relationship with New Zealand, returning and showing here regularly. She won the Walters Prize in 2006 and represented New Zealand at the Venice Biennale in 2009.
Upritchard’s work has always been rife with allusions to other times, places, and cultures. She came to attention with works sporting an exotic Egyptian look. She was shortlisted for the 2003 Beck’s Futures prize for an installation in which a small recumbent mummy vibrated and moaned, surrounded by ceramic canopic jars. She followed up with faux-Māori artefacts and sports gear transformed into animal totems, sloths and monkeys, rocks and orreries, rainbow-patterned sages and exotic dancers.
Scale is key. When Upritchard represented New Zealand in the Venice Biennale in 2009, she arranged small figures on large tables of her own design. The tables implied spacious landscapes across which the figures interacted. She explained: ‘I want to create a visionary landscape, which refers to the hallucinatory works of the medieval painters Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel, and simultaneously draws on the utopian rhetoric of post-sixties counterculture, high modernist futurism and the warped dreams of survivalists, millenarians, and social exiles.’
Upritchard went on to create more exhibitions combining objects, figurines and furniture, including collaborative installations with her partner, Italian furniture designer Martino Gamper, and German-born, New Zealand-based jeweller Karl Fritsch. She is a magpie, drawing from the archives of culture and art, craft and design, fancifully but often inaccurately.
Upritchard’s recent works—larger figures on metal stands—continue to scramble ethnic and cultural stereotypes, but remain impossible to pigeonhole. Are they kabuki performers or warriors, red Indians or monks, harlequins or hippies in technicolour dreamcoats? Are they gurus or imbeciles? Are they from the past, present, or future? Have they transcended history or been discarded by it? Upritchard neither ridicules her subjects nor takes them so seriously. Her references linger beguilingly out of reach.