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A Return to 1981

Forum > Reviews


Gretchen Albrecht at City Gallery Wellington
15 Nov 2005 - 6 Feb 2006

2006_01_23_806450 by Tattler
Article of the Month December 2005

For several years now I have often looked at New Zealand's leading artists and felt a sense of timelessness. Timelessness in the fact that I can look at a certain work by any number of prominent artists and conclusively say, 'been there, done that'; Albrecht is no exception.

During my meagre life I have managed to view more than a few exhibitions of Albrecht's work. While I do find a certain amount of artistic and theoretical merit in her work, I believe that I can also say that if you've seen one exhibition, you've seen them all. This exhibition at the City Gallery was no different. 'Returning' is a retrospective of Albrecht's career going back to that pivotal moment in 1981 when she first began to make her hemispheres.

The exhibition is spread out through three viewing areas that adequately cater for the impressive spatial demands of Albrecht's work. Consequently, each work stands alone as a tribute to the artist's exceptional manipulation of colour, space and feeling. Albrecht has attempted, in her art, to draw the viewer into a realm where emotive colours, shapes and imagery influence not only the visual senses but also the emotional senses as well. The art consequently serves as a platform from which we can enter into a whole new experience of not only our physical world, but our spiritual world as well – or at least that is what she is trying to do.

Myself, well…in my own hypercritical fashion, I find little more in Albrecht's art than a set of impressively large, impressively overpriced set of pretty pictures. This is not to say that I dislike Albrecht's work, far from it! I actually find her work highly pleasing and comforting. However, maybe it is because I'm just your average beer-swilling bloke, but the psychological penetration of her art really seems to be lost on me. I'm sure it's there, and I'm positive a more discerning eye could discover it. Yet this is not my primary issue with Albrecht.

My main gripe is the date, 1981. A fantastic year by any standards, American congress passed a resolution supporting the National Women's History Week, yours truly was born, and Albrecht painted her first 'hemisphere'. Yep, 24 years ago, Gretchen fell into a rut she has of yet, not been able to escape from.

They say that once you discover a winning formula, you should stick to it, and my, hasn't Albrecht done that. Sure, she may have developed the sphere, thrown in a few geometric shapes, and painted raw emotion onto the canvas, but for all the glorious nature of her career, her art now is not much different to her art of the 1980s. Certainly her use of colour has dulled somewhat – seemingly as a response to the death of her father – but for all the subtle advancements, I feel that as a pioneer of contemporary art, Albrecht is failing. This is because her art has descended into that evil realm of pure commercialism where artistic evolution takes second place to the desire for monetary gain. I pray to God I'm wrong, but how else can you explain almost no innovation in 24 years?

Albrecht had been, and will always be, a leading artist in this country. Yet when an artist no longer possesses that intuitive spark that promotes artistic development then perhaps it is time that the artist retired their brush. Albrecht (along with Hammond and his bloody birds) has slowly fallen into this category and Returning, hosted by the Wellington City Gallery is a perfect example of this.

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John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
Some aspects of Albrecht's 'evil realm'

I'm highly sympathetic to what you are saying about art practice and progress, Tattler, but most artists are driven by private obsessions that they like to repeatedly explore. They establish a patch of turf and go over and over it because that is their identifiable brand that they want to fully develop. Perfectly understandable.
Here is something else to consider. Variations on a theme is something you can make a good living with in say, Europe, where there are oodles of collectors - each one wanting an example of your work. In Godzone however, collectors are so few that there are ecomonic reasons that compell artists to change. Otherwise buyers get quickly bored with what artists do, no matter how subtle the product.
I'm not saying that evolving artists cynically change for those market reasons. They might not even be conscious of them, and excitment with their research usually is what propells them on to new possibilities. But as the climate here is so tough, you could argue it takes a lot of guts to doggedly stick to a theme over a long period.
You've also got a whole cluster of separate issues about survey exhibitions. Some formally repetitive shows look good with lots of repeated units, others don't. Depends on the hang - number and sizes of works, physical proximinity, colour intensity etc.
Personally I can never ever see too many Walters koru paintings in an exhibition - I love them all. In contrast Albrecht works I like to see solo, isolated in a room, and not too many in a show. Each one I happen to come across in the world I always stop and spend time with, but they become wearisome in groups. Their sensual appeal becomes smothering. They need isolation.
Grassy Knoll
18 comments since 22 Dec 2005
General Sweeps...like the action of Albrecht's arm

We hada bit of a chat about this show under the J Harris rant, but that was in the context of the Wtgn City Gallery shows. Tattler's article is more about artistic intent and well, scheming?
Justa few things first. Albrecht probably did her first spherical paintings around 1989- previous to that were the hemispheres. Previous to that were the irregular-shaped canvases etc. So she has not been working on the spherical paintings since 1981, she could have been still painting on rectangle format stretchers in 1981.
It is easy to assume what course an artist has taken by way of these survey shows, but its important to remember that this is a survey of the shaped works (hemisphere and spherical- are there any other?-cant remember)
I think the curator has done a pretty weak job. Basically picked works because of their external shape.
It breezes over the intended content (religious renaissance refs, illumination, celestial scapes) and presents pretty shaped paintings. I do think the artist is to blame as well. She's been pumping out these things too long but she has made major shifts. I guess we just dont see them in these type of shows. There is too much of the "look!,Im painting on belgian linen at $200 a metre" posturing in this show. Where as it might have been good to see the transition between the hemis and the spheres- those large gouache on paper works, relating to the Pink and White Terraces. (theres a show in itself!, it could be called "transitioning") ha...
I got to see the After Nature show in Wanganui at the Sarjeant Gallery in the mid 1980's which was a very eclectic show in the nature of the formats of the painting structure, the emphasis on content and also her early Patrick Haymany-type paintings.
I think if the show was curated by someone more sensitive to the content (and to the viewing public) they would have included more supporting material either by the artist or by the referenced artists or subject matter.
The work can be seen on a purely aesthetic level aswell but to people who keep abreast of the art scene in NZ, Albrechts work is so predictable and seeing a show like this is boring which is why Tattler has this reaction. This show has been done before and is therefore rendundant.
The galleries should have jumped on the marketing possibilities though; childrens 'Albrecht Painting kits' with sponge gloves included
or possibly spherical magnet sets(various sized rectangle magnets included!)-Make your own Albrecht!
1 articles & 35 comments since 15 Nov 2005
butterflies smeared in windscreen wipers

I think there is a slight danger here of making immediate-gratification postmodern demands of modernist work. Albrecht is an unflinching modernist and all power to her - but different observational theoretics are at work here. Modernist abstraction makes some rather absurd demands for heroicly strenuous contemplation which few (myself included) have time for or are prepared to give,
The association with corporarte art has also, I think, tainted Albrecht in the minds of a new generation.
They perplex me - I like them, but at the same time find them annoyingly hermetic and stuffy. There are probably lesser known 80s stalwarts more deserving of such an exhibition (there have been too many surveys) - and PoMo would never have come about where there not people bored with modernist tropes.
I do wish she would stop with the saccharine titles though.
6 articles & 50 comments since 19 Oct 2005
There is light

A small bird recently informed me that Albrecht has ventured forth into the avenue of sculpture. Fantastic.
Grassy Knoll
18 comments since 22 Dec 2005

it is true... although in the way that de Kooning had a minor affair with bronze sculpture. They werent too exciting. Elliptical stainless steel or aluminium with a fine mesh strip twisted through the flat elipitical structure. Not really that convincing, especially on their massive plinths. They didnt really do much more than make a change in medium (similar to the glass bowls or the copper patia works) Hmmm hard to discribe...kinda like a really flat and clunky Richard Deacon sculpture on a very small scale. There were some examples at the Mark Hutchins gallery in Wellington and at Sue Crockford Gllery in Auckland. Here is a link the the Mark Hutchins gallery. You need to go to exhibitions then click on Albrecht paintings and sculptures http://www.mhgallery.co.nz/
2 articles & 30 comments since 16 Feb 2006


If I remember correctly, didn't her last show at Sue Crockford include wallpaintings? Or am I thinking of someone else?

If she combined that with the collage-y things she has also been exhibiting lately, that could get interesting.
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