ARTISTS Kirsty Gregg, Michael Harrison, Gavin Hipkins, Denise Kum, Saskia Leek, Simon Morris, Anton Parsons, Jim Speers CURATOR Lara Strongman PUBLICATION essays Lara Strongman, David Cross, Robin Neate, Jonathon Bywater, Gwynneth Porter, Giovanni Intra, Anna Miles, Simon Cuming, Tessa Laird
Billed as ‘a sampling of new directions in New Zealand art’, Signs of the Times is a generational show. Born between 1961 and 1971, the artists range from twenty-six- to thirty-six-years old. Only two artists are over thirty: Michael Harrison and Simon Morris. The exhibition includes painting, sculpture, photography, and installation. Curator Lara Strongman says, ‘It’s not saying this is the last word in emerging New Zealand art—it’s a funky collection of little bites giving a snapshot of where New Zealand art is at, right here, right now.’ Works fall into two modes: minimalist 'blank abstraction' and personal narratives.
At the minimalist end … Anton Parsons’s Jamb is an orange-PVC curtain of the kind that divides shopfloor and back of house in a supermarket or butchery. The artist lends a minimalist chic this utilitarian item. Viewers must pass through it to enter the show. Jim Speers’s lightboxes exploit the similarity between minimalist art and advertising light boxes and corporate signage. In Denise Kum's Viva, sculptures made from green petroleum rubber are displayed in a shelving unit as if merchandise. Gavin Hipkins arranges prints of an abstract photo, playing off the composition in the image with his arrangement of multiple copies of it. Simon Morris adds a monumental minimalist wall painting.
At the personal narratives end … Christchurch’s Kirsty Gregg embroiders cushions with platitudes and pick-up lines. Her Softening the Blow is a heap of pastel cushions embroidered with put downs: ‘I’m too good for you’, ‘I'm sorry, I'm not that drunk’. Saskia Leek’s illustrative works reference her 1970s childhood, while Michael Harrison's lovelorn watercolours advertise his sensitivity and sentimentality.
Signs of the Times is a follow-up to the 1992 City Gallery group show Shadow of Style, that fast tracked an earlier generation of eight New Zealand artists into public-museum visibility. Two artists from Shadow of Style, Anna Miles and Giovanni Intra, write for the Signs of the Times catalogue. Some of the catalogue texts are not conventional art history or criticism, but 'parallel texts'. As Strongman notes in her introduction: 'These texts are characteristic of a new genre of art writing, a kind of creative non-fiction not so much concerned with unpacking the theoretical concerns of the work as of gauging its effects in the world.'
In the Sunday Star Times, critic Mark Amery says, 'Certain aspects of the show also represent the future as some sort of funky interior design version of the Starship Enterprise.' But he concludes on an upbeat note: 'Sign of the Times is a show that not only makes art look fun, but relevant to the world outside. How often can you say that about a show?'