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Art is Dead - at Te Papa Anyway.

Forum > Reviews

The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy: The Exhibition

New line cinema, Te papa, Three foot six ltd, Weta digital ltd and Weta workshop ltd at Te Papa
16 Apr 2006 - 21 Aug 2006

Lee-looking-profound-1 by Artbasher
Article of the Month July 2006

This is one of those shows where I used to enjoy sinking my teeth into the elephantine public institution and ripping a big bloody chunk out. Unfortunately, the pervasiveness of shows like this, what they tell me about contemporary culture and the depression that ensues have erroded my killer instinct.

I did not enjoy Peter Jackson's Lord of The Rings. Nor did I enjoy it when I was overseas and the almost universal response to finding out out I was a New Zealander was, "Oh! That's where LOTRs was filmed, it's so beautiful there!" Whether my distaste was due to simply boredom or a hidden spark of patriotism that couldn't accept my home country as a backdrop to a special effects nightmare of a film with scant cerebral content or drama is a moot point. It only got worse when on my return flight to New Zealand I flew on one of Air New Zealand's LOTR decaled planes, the inflight magazine was a guide to film shoot locations around the country and when I steped off the plane and expressed my opinion on the movie to my fellow citizens I was met with disdain and looks that seemed to imply if you didn't like these movies it was almost like you didn't eat weetbix, marmite or watties tomatoe sauce with your fish & chips. In short, you weren't a true New Zealander. Which I guess is funny in a way, how Peter Jackson has managed so quickly and effectively to get his film into the ranks of NZ identity creating consumer products.

As far as it goes the exhibition is great: There are loads of props, sculptures, paintings, drawings, animations, interviews and contextual information. The exhibition is logically laid out and a pleasure to explore. What the fuck the Museum of New Zealand is doing hosting this show is a different issue. It's a question I hardly dare to ask, because the beasts it reveals are far uglier than any Weta Workshop have yet created.

Call me old fashioned, but I thought the role of a museum was to preserve and exhibit cultural history. I'd love to further say museums should only preserve high cultural history, thus instantly ruling out shows such as LOTRMPT: The Exhibition. However, I daren't make such a claim, as since its inception the egalitarian ethos of Te Papa has been to embrace mostly low and pop culture along with an obligatory smattering of high. However, consider that this is the second season of this exhibition (it's "back by popular demand") after first being shown in NZ in 2002/3, after which it toured the world. Yes, that's right, it was first shown before the last LOTR movie came out. Now that is truly quite magical and revolutionary: far beyond the only minorly controversial collecting and exhibiting of recent cultural artifacts, Te Papa has gone one further and exhibited items from our culture's future. The reality, that Te Papa has prostituted itself into a marketing vehicle for Mr. Jackson is stomach turning. The people down at Te Papa are presumably singing with glee as they have at last been able to liberate themselves from any sense of direction or duty and make the final and complete transition to a government subsidised exhibition hall that is hired out by whoever has the money and clout. Tell me that's not scarier than a Weta Digital Ltd. cave troll. What drives the commercialism of this show home, is that some of the very same things that are exhibited are also for sale in the store. Don't forget to buy your limited edition of 3,000 Peter Jackson as Corsair statue for only $200.

My disdain is only compounded by this show occupying the whole of level 5 – which is normally the art exhibition area. Thankfully there is some art still on show – the touring Constable exhibition. Apart from that though, there is only whatever else is scattered around the permanent exhibits.

I still had fun looking at all the cool weapons and armour and had a fantastic thought on leaving the show. "Hey, I'm in the Museum of New Zealand. New Zealand has a long and bloody history of colonialism. I bet there's some real weapons I could go look at!" Of I set to the Maori area, which looked promising, but try as I might, all I could find were a few pounamu mere all labeled "ceremonial". Frustrated, I asked an assistant, who told me that despite working there for thirty years and knowing the collection inside out, there wasn't really anything like that on display, although there was a nice video I could watch on the history of colonisation if I liked. WTF! I was so angry and confused. There's a shit load of Maori stuff on display: waka, wharae, adzes, clothing and even a marae. But no weapons? There's also tonnes of European crap: furniture, photographs and tools used to tame the wild lands. But not a single musket! Now I know there was a lot of blood spilled between English and Maori. Our national museum endorses a massive show of fake weapons from an imaginary conflict and also somehow blanks out the real violence from our real history. Te Papa's version of the history of New Zealand goes something like this: Once there were Maori, who lived on the land, then Europeans came and changed it, now there are some problems that old Maori ideas may help fix. There is an utter absence of anything dealing with conflict (or co-operation) between the two cultures (Let alone anything on Maori vs Maori conflict.)

What a sick, gutless world (and museum). Taking pleasure in pretend violence, but wiping it out of real historical existence.


Denis Dutton on LOTR
Denis Dutton on Te Papa

R-AT14239jp R-cave-t 195138

1 to 18 of 18
the ambassador
134 comments since 13 May 2006
whilst i sort of understand what point

you are trying to make, there yon fellow, i dont know if you are looking far enough beyond the obvious commercial successes of these motion pictures. if you look a little farther, you may percieve the following.
1)film is a perfectly valid art form, generally combining photography, music, and some manner of literature, all considered by many, to be perfectly decent forms of art; this is subjective of course.
2)tolkeins' trilogy, and other of his works pertaining to the goings on of middle earth, are of remarkable literary merit. the man didn't simply write a story, he wrote an epic, and not only that, he invented a history, a bunch of languages, and it has enthralled readers since. it is undeniably dense writing, but stimulating reading nontheless.
3)peter jackson certainly made a lot of money. this is as a direct result of having the cojones to undertake such a large project, having the vision to use this fucking beautiful country as a backdrop never better suited to the story it was to accompany, and the good sense to ask a great many talented and imaginative people to join him in his endeavour, people who put their skills to use in housing, clothing, arming and physically defining a huge amount of characters. by focussing solely on peter jackson and doing so with a healthy enough dash of piss and vinegar, might i add; you have denied all of those involved in these filmic works their rightful place in new zealand cultural history.
4)given that te papa is the national museum of art, history and natural history, it is representative of the nation. by and large the nation seems to have approved of these films, because the nation is small enough that we all heard about it, many of us knew people involved with it, many of us were in it, and it happened just down the road from most of us. it got us curious, it put us in a state of mind where large projects were by no means unachievable (a fact mirrored in the story itself) and that is what this small thinking nation sometimes needs.
5)you didn't look very hard, or ask the right attendant. last time i had occasion to visit te papa, i saw plenty of gnarly shit. a taiaha, its' dimensions indicative of its' original owner being 7 or 8 feet tall, amongst other things. many relics exist, many weapons, many brutal things, and all may be used to contextualise new zealands' violence. but isn't it okay to celebrate the positive, and innovative, and imaginative and brave exploits of contemporary new zealand?
137 articles & 705 comments since 12 Feb 2005

  1. Never questioned film's status as art.
  2. Never said anything about Tolkien.
  3. Peter Jackson made the film happen - good on him. He does deserve the lions share of focus.
  4. I do not dispute Te Papa's apparent role is to display whatever "the nation" approves of. I do however think that role is bullshit, particularly where this exhibition is quite possibly part of what made "the nation" think this film is great - ie. status gained by exhibiting in Te Papa before the last film was even released. "Wow, it's at Te Papa, must be important."
  5. I did look hard. If they were there before, they aren't anymore. I asked an attendant who was in the Maori artifact area, presumably that should be an area he is familiar with - and after all, he told me he'd been working there for 30 years.
the ambassador
134 comments since 13 May 2006

1)questioned its' validity as "cultural history". and if you go to the trouble of reviewing the exhibit and putting it on your art oriented website, (which i do find interesting, informative and occasionally challenging), then at least a small part of you responds to it in the context of art.
2)should have mentioned tolkein, it is a film that is more or less his story, albeit slightly condensed for filmic purposes, though i dont think it would have been worse for a fuller treatment. shame saruman didn't get more of a look-in in the last film. christopher lee was peeved too, i understand.
3)yes he did, yes he does, along with all of the others.
4)lots of people besides yourself do consider it important. incidentally, if a whole bunch of punters who would normally pass up a museum visit because it scarcely interests them decide to go to check out the LOTRMP exhibit and happen to check out some other things-including art whilst they are there, surely it helps justify it.
5)should have hit up their collections manager. had a personal interest in viewing a solomon islands shark/man effigy at the WMAH once, emailed the collections manager Tarisi Vunidillo, and she was very friendly and happy to show me the said work in the archives room. sometimes you just have to organise things in advance. i'm sure te papa has both a collections manager and a pile of blood spattered weapons (though i doubt it is fresh, probably little rust spots by now. if you want a great bit of violent history, go to st. stephens church in opotiki-they have blood stained things under glass cases from the controversial execution/murder of one reverend karl volkner at the hands of some people he evidently pissed off. they even ate his eyeballs!)
Chris Taylor
1 articles & 308 comments since 30 Apr 2006
AB has pointed to something

which I think you are missing Marten.

YES.... the people who made the film are all artists in their field. YES... it has been a huge commercial success, ticker tape parades, etc, all attest to that. Good on you Peter. Now, can we move on.

It goes something like this. Aotearoa, Middle Earth, or Utopia, did really exsist (perhaps it will eventually end up in the NCEA History curriculum) , and if we could just find our way back there, everything will be all right. The LOTR exhibition is a metaphor for the quest for National Identity and Nandor knows the way there.

Fundamentally it's a nostalgia for some kind of communal or tribal society living in peace, organically and nuclear (musket) free. The bad guys are English. Mel Gibson knows this very well, and Hollywood loves it...they too have English bad guys. Anyway, they come to Aotearoa and they have some very destructive powers. As a sub plot, they stay and slowly morph into these 'bad' tribes called New Right, National, Act Orcs.

So powerful is this idea, which was around long before the LOTR phenomena, that it seems to inform some of the thinking behind the displays at Te Papa. So when NZ-LOTR came along....well, it's a wonder it's not a permanent exhibition.

What is disturbing is the blurring of the line between history, scholarship and research and fantasy at Te Papa, The National Museum of New Zealand.
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
The most interesting aspect of this exhibition

is that Jonathan Mane-Wheoki was seen on television publicly criticising Seddon Bennington, his boss.

That event in itself was amazing. And oddly it put both gentlemen in a good light. It gave Te Papa a little, much needed, credibility. Mane-Wheoki looked good for expressing his exasperation and anger that the Toi Te Papa art programme was undermined; and Bennington [despite being the culprit that let the LOR show proceed] looked tolerant for not sacking M-W on the spot as Cheryl Sotheran probably would have done.

Those signals were very interesting. They hinted that the institution is changing.
the ambassador
134 comments since 13 May 2006
my question is this.

if the show is so goddamned awful, why did anybody bother to review it for this site? by paying it heed you have inadvertently drawn attention to it anyway, thus feeding its' publicity. if you didnt believe it was worthy, then why bloody bother?
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
It is important that critics review bad shows as well as good

to stimulate discussions about their responses to both. That approach ensures they are not public relations staff who cannot criticise.

And who cares if the bad shows gain publicity and more visitors through the debate? That's democracy. The issues are presented for all to consider and make up their own minds.
the ambassador
134 comments since 13 May 2006
its just that in his wording,

yon fellow art basher does not even seem to consider it to be a show.
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
He personally enjoyed it but thought it not

appropriate for Te Papa in that it had little to do with NZ culture.
the ambassador
134 comments since 13 May 2006
its more like he had a great time,

but felt inordinately bad or dumb for enjoying something at te papa, and if its at te papa, it couldn't possibly of relevance to new zealand.
19 articles & 495 comments since 9 Aug 2005
Oh come on

The issue is, what id Te Papa for? If it is the national museum, surely it should start acting like one. The reality of the matter is that, for the most part, it seems to be a theme park attraction for tourists rather than explaining to New Zealanders the subtle nuances of their identity.
The issue I keep coming back to is that I don't like in a Baudrilardian similacrum, nor do I inhabit a Kevin Roberts lovemark. I live in a complex country with a complex history and a complex culture - something yet to be expressed. If the tourism board had its way, we'd be the new Bangkok - our identity is either being simplified and whored for tourism dollars, or a completely artificial one (that tourists seem to find more attractive) put in its place. I don't like it.
Te Papa is one big cultural cringe - please Massa, can I lick yo boots...
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
So PPLX, which of those strong, dominant, Te Papa

staff members would you like to have wearing those lickable boots? You can whisper their names to me. I won't tell anyone, honest.....
the ambassador
134 comments since 13 May 2006
one of the annoying traits of new

zealanders is that on an absolutely individual level, every single of them would go to great pains to reduce the country into a four week condensed tour version, when confronted by say, a hapless tourist or visitor here. it cant seem to be helped-"oh yeah, its bewdiful. go to rodorua, see the trout, big buggers in there at fairy springs, see some lambs, ride the gondolas. thats about all thats worth doing though. have a nice holiday". what a crock of horse shit.
so if that is new zealanders on a micro level, what do you suppose might just be the way to do it on a macro scale?
pimp it hard, thats what. everybody has their idea of the greatest time on earth.
Chris Taylor
1 articles & 308 comments since 30 Apr 2006
Te Papa Expo Pavilion

Is that the idea Marten?

Not far to go as it is.
the ambassador
134 comments since 13 May 2006

mentioned above the notion of te papa as a theme park for tourists. i put it to you that the nation, not just te papa, is pretty much exactly that. was te papa ever promised to contemporary art alone? do you feel that it is the sole dominion of good art shows only? who gets to pick what comes in the door, and do they ever have to state publically what comes through the door and why? if this level of displeasure exists, does it only exist in this forum, or is it subject to wider displeasure? i dont mean to be an annoying bastard, just curious.
8 articles & 55 comments since 25 Jan 2006
10 Year installation planned!

My god!
137 articles & 705 comments since 12 Feb 2005
I think you'll find

That "article" is a joke.
8 articles & 55 comments since 25 Jan 2006
Clerks 2 has one of the best Ring Burns around. Check out the You Tube clip and below excerpts.

Randal Graves: Oh, I'm crazy? Those fuckin' hobbit movies were boring as hell. All it was, was a bunch of people walking, three movies of people walking to a fucking volcano.

Randal Graves: [describing the Lord of the Rings Trilogy] Here's the first movie.
[walks a few steps, staring blankly]

Randal Graves: And here's the second movie.
[walks a few steps again, pretends to trip]

Hobbit Lover: He is way off, loser.

Randal Graves: You ready for the third movie?

[walks yet again, stops, pretends to throw the ring into the volcano. Shrugs his shoulders and turns around]

Randal Graves: Even the fuckin' trees walked in those movies.

If peter Jackson wanted to blow me away with those movies, he would have ended on the logical closure point, not with the twenty five endings that followed.

Randal Graves: That look was so gay, I thought Sam was gonna tell the little Hobbits to go for a walk so he could saunter over to Frodo and suck his fucking cock. Now *that* would have been an Academy Award-worthy ending.
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