Auckland Art Fair 2019: Conversations Extended
The Cloud, Auckland. Courtesy Auckland Art Fair. Photo: Josef Scott.
The weather was clement for the annual Auckland Art Fair (2–5 May 2019), which was again at The Cloud on Queens Wharf. This year's edition was a get-together of 41 galleries, mostly from around Auckland and across New Zealand, with 5 spaces hailing from Sydney and the rest from Cook Islands (Bergman Gallery), Hobart (Michael Bugelli Gallery), Melbourne (Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art), Shanghai (Leo Gallery), Jakarta (REDBASE Art), and Santiago (Totoral Lab). Most galleries were found on the spacious ground floor of The Cloud, where they were organised into lines of two with an aisle between them, with the rest located in a smaller exhibition space upstairs.
Given the number of New Zealand galleries present, this year's Auckland Art Fair again offered ground to examine contemporary art from across the country. Michael Lett devoted its booth to Séraphine Pick, one of New Zealand's most acclaimed figurative painters, who presented soft-coloured, impressionistic paintings from her recent 'Natural Behaviour' series (2019). During the VIP preview and the first two days of the fair, Starkwhite, a regular presence at Art Basel Hong Kong and Sydney Contemporary, showcased the work of Auckland-based interdisciplinary artist John Reynolds, who expanded his Missing Hours project with large acrylic paintings from the 'Centennial Park (The Silver Painting)' series and 'HeadMap Footage' series (both 2019). The Missing Hours project, begun in 2016, draws on the disappearance of preeminent New Zealand painter Colin McCahon in 1984, who was found one day later in a disoriented state in Centennial Park. The 'Centennial Park' paintings depict mostly small rectangles and dots scattered across a silver background, their geometry disturbed in places with erratic brushstrokes that evoke the footprints of a disoriented person. 'HeadMap Footage' adopts a more organised approach. Number #9 in the series, for instance, is composed of colour-blocked rectangles—bright red, pink, and yellow, in harmony with pastel-coloured rectangles—and dots, with dotted lines connecting the shapes together. Over the weekend, the booth transformed into 'a Starkwhite sampler'—with works by New Zealand's Billy Apple, Alicia Frankovich, Gavin Hipkins, Seung Yul Oh, Ani O'Neill, and Fiona Pardington on view.
A group exhibition of New Zealand artists at Ivan Anthony included Francis Upritchard, who had a concurrent show at the gallery address on Karangahape Road during the fair (Centaurs and Sea Creatures, 3 April–4 May 2019) after a solo presentation at the Barbican, London, earlier this year (Wetwang Slack, 27 September–6 January 2019). Presented on a green plinth were small-scale sculptures made of shibuichi (a form of Japanese copper alloy): centaur figures throwing their hands in the air or lying on their bellies, small pendants depicting body parts and dangling from haori himo (Japanese braided ties), as well as coral-like forms with stones sprouting from their ends. Also on view were Tanja Nola's jagged ceramic pots Twisted Pot (2016), Two Handled Stick Pot and Illyrioi (both 2018), which sat underneath Peter Madden's 3D mixed-media collages on the wall from 2018 that depict mostly greyscale bouquet-like forms composed of images of foliage, animals, human figures, and houses. Bill Hammond's diptych of acrylic on canvas, Wishboneash: Urns and Burners (2011)—portraying scenery populated by winged humanoids with bird heads (a recurring motif in Hammond's works) holding urns or burners—filled up one wall, and Andrew McLeod's Temple of Self Belief (2019), a portrait-oriented oil painting of figures clad in Classical dresses rendered in the painter's photorealistic style, occupied another.
Gow Langsford Gallery staged a survey of well-seasoned and popular New Zealand artists. Most were recent works, including Judy Millar's untitled paintings showing ribbons of pink and dark purple, with a shot of yellow in all three, from 2018. The booth also had Karl Maughan's Kairaki (2019) on view, a two-and-a-half-metre-wide oil painting depicting his signature brightly coloured flower garden, and John Walsh's comparatively small oil painted landscapes from 2019 (one, titled Oh, portrays a centaur on a field against a backdrop of trees)—a contrast to an enormous John Walsh painting, The Gardeners (2018) depicting a boat of people looking out to a vast landscape below, which was on display at Paige Blackie Gallery. Max Gimblett, known for his paintings on tondo- and quatrefoil-shaped canvases, presented a series of 30 screen prints on quatrefoil-shaped aluminium, titled 'Lyric Suite' (2019), each featuring unique sweeps of colours ranging from blue, pink, and silver to gold leaf. Sculptor Paul Dibble showed new bronze and gold sculptures depicting birds and flowers, among them Bouquet of Bird and Flowers and Single Kowhai with Bird (both 2019). In this compressed chronology of New Zealand art of the past few decades, older paintings by Don Binney (Two Fat Birds, 1964), Colin McCahon (About the Kurow Hotel, 1972), and Julian Dashper (Regret, 1985) also made appearances.
In response to the Guerrilla Girls: Reinventing the 'F' Word—Feminism! exhibition at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki (8 March–13 October 2019), Trish Clark Gallery presented a thoughtful collection of works by five female New Zealand artists that explore ideas of gender and sexuality as well as life, love, and death. Presented on the booth's central wall were two Guerrilla Girls posters—Dearest Art Collector (1986) and The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist (1988)—whose pink colours punctuated the booth's otherwise subdued colour scheme. Heather Straka was the only artist in this group to show paintings, which depict portraits of women from behind, with photographs forming the lion's share of works on view. These included Alexis Hunter's silver gelatin prints from the 'Tattoo' (1973) series, depicting tattooed arms and hands, and colour Xerox images of what appear to be intimate body parts from the 'Gender Confusion: Incubus/Succubus' (1978) series—images that challenged the traditionally male artist's gaze on female bodies; Christine Webster's 'Le Dossier' (2005) photographs of flowers and near-naked women; and Jennifer French's contemplative photographs '"In order to build a social aspiration from the cycle of existence we must thoroughly examine our condition"—The Dalai Lama, 1994' (1996/2014), that picture snippets of individuals seated in a car—in one image, only a chin of a head resting against the side of the car is visible in the lower left-hand corner—and scenery of a landscape seen from inside the same vehicle.
Marie Shannon, who is due to open a solo exhibition at Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery on 25 May 2019 (Rooms Found Only in the Home), showed photographs spanning from the late 1980s to 2016, among them I.L.Y. & I.L.L. (2005)—a folded piece of paper with I.L.Y. & I.L.L., meaning 'I Love You and I Love Leo', scribbled on it and photographed against a black background. This work belongs to 'Love Notes', a series of black-and-white photographs of affectionate notes that Shannon's late partner and artist Julian Dashper left in their house—in places such as on her pillow—for her.
Of the five New Zealand galleries from outside Auckland and Wellington, Hastings-based Parlour Projects exhibited works by two New Zealand artists, Matt Arbuckle and Emma Fitts. The gallery booth featured vertical steel frames, about the same height as the partition walls, on which Arbuckle's recent paintings were hung. Arbuckle, who is based in Melbourne and Auckland, paints on knitted polyester that appears opaque when propped against the wall, but creates an interplay of transparency and colours when light manages to pass through the fabric. The booth's steel frames enabled this, while referencing his other paintings on the wall in aluminium frames. Next to Arbuckle, Christchurch-based Fitts showed small, hand-sewn textile works made from silk and dyed linen, which mostly featured a monochromatic colour scheme, such as the muted green in Fringe on Silk #3 (2019). Fitt's presentation coincided with her solo show at Te Uru, Emma Fitts: In the Rough Parts 1, 2, & 3 (16 February-26 May 2019), which references the 20th-century lives and works of Bauhaus-weaver Anni Albers, painter Romaine Brooks, and interior designer Eileen Gray.
The labour- and time-intensive processes employed by Arbuckle and Fitts connected with Australian artist Ry David Bradley's large wall tapestry at Sydney-based Gallery 9. Titled Ez tC6d (2018), the 190 by 140 centimetre work is the result of the artist collecting images from international and local news and using them to compose a digital painting, which he then inputs into a Jacquard loom to weave his tapestries. The result is an incredibly complex yet striking view, of contorting forms and colours, that perhaps evoke a pixelated landscape.
At the Sydney-based gallery Fine Arts' booth, technology and the implications of its impact on society were the central concern of Simon Denny's wall installation, Shenzhen Innovation Paradigm—Mass Entrepreneurship-1 (2017). This Auckland-born and Berlin-based artist, who represented New Zealand at the 56th Venice Biennale, first showed the work in his solo exhibition Shenzhen Entrepreneurial Form at Fine Arts, Sydney, in 2017. The exhibition, in turn, was a follow-up to his Real Mass Entrepreneurship exhibition at OCAT Shenzhen earlier that year, which took the city of Shenzhen and its reputation as a hub of electronics productions as a point of departure with works that repurposed abandoned glass tops and other business-related objects the artist collected in China. In the glass box of Mass Entrepreneurship-1 are an assortment of items including a dismantled wireless microphone, a Hongyesheng company brochure, and a business card, resembling the glass counters in shops that sell electronic devices.
While there was a predominant New Zealand presence at the fair, international names were certainly not absent from the floor. Two Rooms showed British artist David Shrigley's sardonic works on paper and canvas—rendered in his characteristic cartoon-like style—mounted on an aisle-facing outer wall. Inside the booth, German-born Joachim Bandau's minimalist watercolour paintings were hung alongside New Zealand painter Gretchen Albrecht's Fold in the Sky (2016), an acrylic and oil on canvas depicting horizontal brushstrokes of dark blue and purple over stripes of red-orange. Other works on view included Wellington-based Lauren Winstone's ceramic series 'Learnings' (2014-2016), Auckland-based Tira Walsh's abstract, mixed-media paintings Galleriet and Hide and Seek (2018), and Wellington-based Shaun Waugh's dichromatic landscape paintings from 2019.
At The Vivian, Patricia Piccinini—who represented Australia in the 50th Venice Biennale and currently has her solo exhibition A World of Love on view at Denmark's Arken Museum (till 8 September 2019)—showed two of her hyperrealistic chimeras made from silicone, fibreglass, and human hair, which the artist described as her 'favourite works'. One of them was Ghost (2012), a long-eared head wearing a hat made out of a car tyre, hanging from the ceiling; and the other Joined Figure (2016) in which a helmeted figure with a limbless, thumb-like body faces another, their bodies joined at the crossed legs. In an interview with Victoria Lynn, director of TarraWarra Museum of Art, which was published on Ocula in 2018, Piccinini referred to the works as embodying a contemporary idea of the human body as being changeable, where 'the corporeal becomes both plastic and a resource to be shaped to our needs and desires.' These were shown alongside two of Piccinini's panel works, which are less known among her sculptures and offered a stark contrast to her figurative sculptures. Radiant Field (Red) and (Yellow) (both 2018) each comprises 12 square panels with smooth, abstract patterns, arranged in rows of three by four, that are hand-sculpted and hand-painted—using the same paint used for automobiles—by an expert in Melbourne.
Despite there also being works from international artists—for example, Shanghai's Leo Gallery showed Huang Yan's photograph Chinese Shan-shui Tattoo No. 9 (1999), depicting a torso covered in Chinese landscape or shanshui, and Santiago's Tortoral Lab represented Chilean artist Tan Varga's silkscreen and collage on paper works for the first time in New Zealand—Auckland Art Fair was still very much a New Zealand, if not Auckland, affair. This year's Projects Programme, titled Whanaungatanga, for instance, which roughly translates as 'kinship' in English, focused on building community among mostly local artists. Exceptions included Caitlin Patane (Melbourne) who presented Mother Tongue (2019), a book of quotes by female authors and artists on writing, and Faisal Abdu'Allah (London), whose large photographs in Last Supper (1994/2019)—inspired by the Last Supper of Jesus and his apostles from the Bible, with figures of African heritage—were mounted on the wall between Fine Arts' and Parlour Projects' booths. The talks programme, spreading from Thursday through the close of the fair, offered an opportunity to hear directly from artists and professionals in the arts, but the panel was also largely from New Zealand.
That being said, Auckland Art Fair does well to showcase contemporary art at home with notable curated efforts, and fair organisers appear to be addressing the need to push for exchanges outside New Zealand's immediate frame of reference. CHINA IMPORT DIRECT, 'a curated showcase of the best digital and video artists practicing today across China', was another international feature at the fair, even though it was somewhat isolated in a container booth outside The Cloud. Curated by Shanghai's Monumental Culture, this collateral project demonstrated efforts to extend the fair's conversations beyond New Zealand's national—and regional—borders.—[O]