ARTISTS Laurence Aberhart, Gretchen Albrecht, Hannah and Aaron Beehre, Gavin Chilcott, Bill Culbert, Tony de Lautour, Brett Graham, Kirsty Gregg, Bill Hammond, Michael Harrison, Ralph Hotere, Sean Kerr, Richard Killeen, Leigh Martin, Richard McWhannell, Julia Morison, Simon Morris, Milan Mrkusich, Ani O'Neill, Fiona Pardington, Michael Parekōwhai, Anton Parsons, Seraphine Pick, Phil Price, John Pule, John Reynolds, Natalie Robertson, Caroline Rothwell, Ross T Smith, Jim Speers, Yuk King Tan, Andrew Thomas, Terry Urbahn CURATOR Lara Strongman SPONSOR Telecom
Telecom Prospect 2001: New Zealand Art Now is a full-gallery survey of contemporary New Zealand art. The Gallery is filled with over seventy art works by thirty-four artists, from emerging to senior. Intended to be ‘up-to-the-minute’, curator Lara Strongman says, ‘The paint may still be wet on some of the works.’ It is promoted as the first in a series of biennial national survey shows. In his Landfall review, Peter Ireland observes, that ‘This land is littered with the unused machinery of biennial surveys, dumped after the test run.’ Yes, the National Art Gallery’s 1986 Content/Context and the Museum of New Zealand’s 1994 Art Now ended up being one offs. But Prospect will run regularly until 2012.
Gavin Chilcott’s blossom-covered swan, Cult Effigy 1952 (2000–1), pays homage to 1950s Spring Festival procession floats. It becomes the hero image, being pictured in the show's masthead. Yuk King Tan makes her works while skydiving. Hundreds of photos and a video record her plummeting through layers of cloud, with the land emerging beneath her. Sean Kerr’s Stacker (2001), a four-metre-high wall made of secondhand speakers, presents a ‘disagreeable wall of sound’—incessant sound bites, electronic beats, beeps, and buzzes. Kerr’s similarly humming video, Pogo (2001), occupies the stairwell.
Ross T Smith’s photo series Stillness Falls Gradually (2001) addresses his local Northland landscape—‘a heavy, dark, rural place with a lot of blue-green light’. He says, ‘My image of New Zealand is of a very heavy, wet, foresty place. That’s the palette I work in.’ A photo of Smith’s five-year-old daughter, half-naked in a Batman costume, is rated ‘R’ and closeted off.
Young duo Hannah and Aaron Beehre present a yellow fish wearing a plastic lei and a stuffed purple badger wearing a gold chain and a nappy. Hannah dreamt of a singing badger and felt compelled to immortalise it. Four modernist paintings by senior artist Milan Mrkusich hang in the same room.
Kirsty Gregg’s Collection 2001 (2001) comprises rugby balls signed by her fifteen favourite contemporary New Zealand artists, some of whom are also in the show. It teases high-culture with the sacred symbol of popular culture. Flanking the rugby ball he signed for Gregg’s work, Michael Parekōwhai presents The Consolation of Philosophy/Piko Nei Te Matenga (2001), a series of photos of silk-flower arrangements named after foreign fields where the Māori Pioneer Battalion fought and died ‘for king and country’ during World War 1.
Bill Culbert and Ralph Hotere’s Whale/Bone (1997) explores the optical and metaphysical properties of light and dark. These senior artists began collaborating in the early 1990s, during their regular sojourns at Hotere’s place in Port Chalmers. (Their 1994 work Fault is permanently installed on the Gallery facade.)
Courting a wide audience, the catalogue takes two forms, a website and a newsprint publication—an inserted supplement in the 28 April 2001 Dominion Post. Its ‘Key Thinkers’ section presents opinions on the arts from Prime Minster Helen Clark, Saatchi and Saatchi art director Len Cheeseman, fashion designer Karen Walker, property developer Sir Bob Jones, and others. E-cards, featuring works from the show, can also be sent to friends and family through the website.
If the Gallery courts a populist response, it gets it. The Dominion Post claims: ‘There are a number of ways you can react to pieces … Walk in, walk out—none the wiser; drag up the “my five-year old could do better” cliché; or—and this is what the spirit of the exhibition encourages you to do—make an effort to work out what is going on.’ The Waikato Times invents a tale of two ‘blokes’ who are astounded by the show's floating eggs, McDonald’s references, and a disturbing rendition from Alice in Wonderland. ‘Crap’, says the first bloke. ‘Crap’, he says again turning to the next artwork. What does it mean? ‘Crap, crap, crap’, he says as they work their way through, faster and faster. ‘Crap.’