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Telecom Prospect 2007

Heather Galbraith at City Gallery Wellington
14 Feb 2007 - 13 May 2007

by David Cauchi
67 Comments
Homesmall4

I am afraid I didn’t get a very good first impression from the show. A couple of the works weren’t operating, the Internet site is not live yet, the written material is very poorly presented, and the writing is sloppy.[1] All of these things indicate a show that has been put together hastily and reflect badly on the gallery’s management. (Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case – another example is the debacle over the Shane Cotton catalogue a while ago.) They make a big noise about this being their ‘flagship’ exhibition, and this is not a good look.


 

After going to see the show, I checked out an interview with the curator on the Radio New Zealand site. She was quite disarmingly honest. She acknowledged that nobody can take the claim that this is ‘the most vital and curious work made by New Zealand artists over the last three years’ seriously. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I’d prefer the gallery to make an honest, straightforward declaration of its aims rather than indulge in corporate-style self-aggrandising hype.


 

The other notable comment from the interview was that the three ‘intersecting thematic clusters’ the show is organised under ‘are made to be usurped’. This is probably just as well – I found them arbitrary and incoherent. The distinction between a ‘reconfiguration of everyday reality’ and ‘augmented reality’ is not clear, and I fail to see how ‘contemporary abstraction’ intersects with either. None of the artists in the interview seemed to know which strand they were in. I don’t see the point in making your holes so big that any shaped peg can fit in.


 

Despite all this, the show is worth checking out. There is some excellent work in there, and this is after all the only recurring survey of contemporary New Zealand art we have. It is a nice complement to Toi Te Papa, providing the contemporary focus that that show lacks. It was extremely good to see that the gallery was full of people. I think, however, that lessons need to be learnt for the next one.


[1] This last might not seem to be a big deal, but it is. Bad writing (especially writing riddled with grammatical and punctuation errors) is not only unprofessional but it is also rude. It is effectively saying ‘I can’t be bothered making things clear for you.’


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Comments:
1 to 20 of 67
alibi
3 articles & 366 comments since 9 Oct 2006
ouch.
good on you for shooting from the hip, DC.

Dont you think that irritating thematic clusters are endemic to large group shows?
I found the themes in Reboot similarly random and incoherent, (in its Dunedin showing..Im unable to coment on how it was displayed on its other tour dates.)

The two shows have some similarities in that they are roughly representative of an individual taste... ie The Barr collection is obviously a selection of what the collectors find worthwhile without any attempt to draw relationships between the individual works beyond that.
While that is completely valid from a collecting point of view, the problem occurs when the attempt is made to create or organise cohesive thematic threads in a specific exhibition situation - from within a small pool of work effectively prelimited by the lense of an individual and locally limited judgement of merit.


This is a different problem to those encountered by specific didactic projects that have a wider range of work to create associations from.

perhaps, as you imply DC, it would be preferable to present the work simply as "here is some work from artists that City Gallery thinks are hot this year"
Sooty
2 articles & 162 comments since 25 Mar 2006
So what are you saying Alibi -- large group shows selected by curators/collectors are a bad thing? Individual taste has no place in the museum?
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005

Thank you David for getting this thread started.
The images I've posted above - from the CG website - are details of works by Andrew McLeod (top), and left to right, Jacquelyn Greenbank, Miranda Parkes,  Gregor Kregar and Nova Paul.

There are a number of  ways of approaching a project like this, aren't there? You could just pick ten artists and give them solo shows that are really disparate. Or pick single works from individual artists that simply knock you out, and throw them all together. Or do something really thematically tight and mix it up with single choices and suites of works from different sources.

And how recent does the work have to be?  Maybe forgotten artists - but now  suddenly pertinent  - can be resurrected?

jt
6 articles & 46 comments since 2 Sep 2006
Which works weren't operating, and what is it with gallery visits that are marred by artworks not working properly? Who is to blame, the artist or the gallery? It seems to me that what might work for a few hours in the studio might not be up to scratch for an eight hour day, seven days a week.
It is an interesting observation, David, that the show feels like it has been put together hastily. Haven't they had two years? Am I wrong, or has Heather Galbraith had at least one solid year to work solely on this exhibition, much like Emma Bugden and Lara Strongman before her?
Anyway, definitely more rant than review, but perfectly valid and insightful. I have not had an opportunity to see Prospect yet, so am glad to see some discussion started. Perhaps we can hear a bit more about the artworks, artists, and how they relate (or don't) within those pesky 'intersecting thematic clusters' (!!!).
alibi
3 articles & 366 comments since 9 Oct 2006
a belated answer to Sooty who asked:
"So what are you saying Alibi -- large group shows selected by curators/collectors are a bad thing? Individual taste has no place in the museum?"

not saying that at all Sooty,
was saying however that in such instances the themes can appear to be applied after the pre-selection ...as opposed to the other way around. (mere speculation in the case of this years Prospect as I havent even seen it...)

The issue is the amount of work available to generate any solid sense of overview, or serious connections / conclusions about, ie simultaneously too much and not enough of it.
Particularly without the help of a broader historical and international context that an intentionally didactic project would create by borrowing works from other institutions/collections for instance. (The show 'moment making' at artspace that JH reviewed recently is an example of the other methodology at work).

But before you start thinking Im arguing in favour of being didactic all the time:

the issue is attempting to apply any sense of unification or overview to an attempted 'snap shot' overview of the most excellent and interesting current NZ practice in the first place...the pool is both too specifically limited in sample and too diverse in starting points to be able to find convincing thematic threads effectively.

My point, other than being bloody minded for the sake of discussion perhaps, was why try?

Is it really necessary to generalise the work for public consumption? If didactics are necessary (yes I know that they are) then why not a peice of writing about each work on its own terms and arrange the rooms so that the work looks good and is individually well represented...rather than applying unsatisfying generalisations, apparently for their own sake, or from force of habit?

I see nothing wrong whatever in a gallery or individual taking the position "we/I think these works are excellent, and invite you to come and have a look at them."

John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005

There is an awful lot of work there to engage with. Very briefly, here are twelve of the more memorable items that I responded to. So picking a round dozen:


*Nova Paul's film where home movies have been filmed 3X with three coloured filters, and processed so the sequences overlap. A magical work with a beautifully understated soundtrack by Rachel Shearer.


*et al's instalation is a cracker with lightboxes propped up on easels, and hilarious audio.


* The best work of Simon Morris's career is in this show. It looks at the time it takes to paint undulating blue lines that weave across the picture plane. Grunty and super smart.


* Sensational Rohan Wealleans wall sculpture in white. Bodily and crystaline, quite disturbing.


* Daniel du Bern's posters of homemade weapons. Creepy, but bizarrely elegant too.


* Gorgeously sombre kowhaiwhai-based paintings by Ngataiharuru Taepa made using industrial technology.


* David Hatcher and Cindy Bernard's video of LA artists doing auditions by reading excepts from a 17 century German satire on namecalling between rival musical groups. Terrific script.


* Fabulously sexy little red painting by Miranda Parkes is worth a special trip to Wellington to see.

* Fiona Amundsen's very detailed and still photographs of early morning Auckland.

* Richard Killeen's dense, richly multi-layered prints are well known now. Nevertheless, they remain inexhaustably fascinating.

* Pip Culbert's fabric 'drawings' of treated seams taken from pinafores.

*Rachel Rakena and Brett Graham's U.F.O.B. installation. A great synthesis incorporating tactile sculpture, moving image and sound.

 

David Cauchi
9 articles & 122 comments since 9 May 2006
Cheers Alibi, that's extremely well put. Your 'too specifically limited in sample and too diverse in starting points' explanation makes a lot of sense. Why not indeed simply arrange things so the work looks good, and deal with it on its own terms? I don't think forcing work to fit into a theme does it any favours.

And of course there's nothing wrong with saying something like 'this is what this individual finds fascinating at the moment'. It's more honest, and I think it'd be more engaging for the audience.
David Cauchi
9 articles & 122 comments since 9 May 2006
Works by Simon Denny and Seung Yul Oh weren't working when I was there.

It seems John and I respond to quite different things, though I'm surprised he didn't mention Andrew McLeod.
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005

Those artists have components of their work on timers I think, David.

There are over 3 dozen very talented people in the show and I picked only 12 as an introduction.  To give readers a feel for the exhibition, a little taste.

David Cauchi
9 articles & 122 comments since 9 May 2006
At least one of them had a message next to it apologising for it not working.
alibi
3 articles & 366 comments since 9 Oct 2006
picking up on your earlier comment JH:
...And how recent does the work have to be? Maybe forgotten artists - but now suddenly pertinent - can be resurrected?"

that work by Gregor Kregar is at least four years old, it was shown as part of a collaborative show in Dunedin 29 April – 10 May, 2003

titled: Matthew 12, 12: “And surely man is worth far more than a sheep!”

Gregor Kregar & Glen Spencer at the Blueoyster

it was very witty and fabulous, still is Im sure, but hardly recent.
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005

It is interesting this notion of currency -whether of artist or work. Should Telecom Prospect be like the Walters Prize and just pick dynamite shows that are very recent?

Or should all the work be 'virgin' - having not even been exposed to the public in a dealer show? Straight out of studios.

Is it necessary to have a use-by date? Because often it is great to have a rethink about 'old' work.

And the amount of selection for each artist..... there might be an argument for a strict rule: treat all artists the same. Emma's show I remember was mainly solo exhibitions, but it included two exhibitions by one artist [at CG and the Adam] and single works by other older figures. Very strange. Quite insulting (in that context) if you are just putting one work in and you saw Fred down the road having two shows. I'd rather be totally left out I think.

alibi
3 articles & 366 comments since 9 Oct 2006
its not a democracy though is it...who said contemporary curatorial practice has anything to do with fairness or equity?

I did see the show that Emma Bugden put together, I thought the volumes of work included had to do with the internal cohesion of the individual works...I didnt find the varying amounts odd at the time.

but then I wasnt thinking about it in the first instance as representative of a heirarchy so the potential ego problems werent what I was looking for. which I have to say is the way I prefer it when I go into exhibitions!
..
no..really, attempting to treat artists all the same in an exhibition setting is just a daft idea JH, works just dont have the same spatial requirements, its not practical to suggest it.

besides which, if you organised exhibitions with social backlash in mind, would that demonstrate a practical definition of sycophancy?
and boycotting a show because of professional jealousy could come across just a wee bit petty

are you being a stirrer again?

John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005

I am aware of the obvious problems of comparing apples with oranges, different sorts of practice not being easy to 'equalise' - but I really think some sort of parity amongst selected artists is essential. Once you are certain of the merits of selecting them in the first place.

There are two main reasons for this: firstly to avoid any sort of A Team / B Team nonsense that reeks of preferential treatment; secondly to provide clarity for the viewer, some sort of visual logic and consistency that helps guide them through the exhibits assured that there is a thought-out method behind choice and placement - that the process is not ad hoc.

alibi
3 articles & 366 comments since 9 Oct 2006
what?
this is interesting...mental sleeve rolling.
yes firstly there is a benchmark of professional courtesy, which is absolutely essential.
However, in practice as you well know, this does not mean that all artists are afforded identical practical situation, even with all best attempts. It cannot mean that and never will mean that ..apples and oranges.

there are several assumptions in your position and you cant have it all ways JH

if the show is assembled according to a criteria of excellence there is already a heirarchy operating. it is naive to suggest that the heirarchy will suddenly vanish into a marxist utopia as soon as the selection hurdle has been passed.

one important question (assuming that this hypothetical show was selected for excellence): does the criteria of excellence apply to the artist (as a kind of celebrity) or to the specific work that is selected?

your position suggests the former, it sounds as though you conceive the show by visualing a room with a group of artists standing in it... rather than a room with work in it. The work has a separate existance from the person and ego of its creator.
an exhibition is not a panel discussion with all the speakers having the same amount of time to speak...even if it were someone still has to speak first!

someones work always gets the 'best' wall, someone elses work always gets the spot beside the elevator or WC. The fairest most equitable thing for a curator to do is to make damn sure the decision is based on what the work requires...not any social or professional maneuvering.

do you really think shows should be organised according to a star system with the most well known artists automatically afforded best visibility regardless of the current work? or that work that is has more spatial requirements should be reduced cookie cutter style purely because of some misguided sense of fair play? These are the logical teleologies of your statements.
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
Your comments are pretty strange, alibi. Esp your last paragraph which suggests you think I'm saying the opposite of what I actually intended. Are we at cross purposes perhaps? Is my writing that unclear?

Third to last para - I'm talking about the work, not artists. But you can structure the work evenly via placement so it is read as clearly as possible to the design of the show.

Second to last para - exactly correct. But the work within the whole context of the show, right?

I think your last sentence is nuts. Of course I am aware different spatial requirements go with different sorts of practice. I'm not saying something insane like x amount of running metres per artist. I'm pleaing for something sensible where there is no hierarchy if it is not demanded by the premises of the show's conceptual underpinnings.
alibi
3 articles & 366 comments since 9 Oct 2006
possibly we are at cross purposes, but only on some things. we both think that excellent work is the most important factor. it was bickering about what constitutes fairness that got the conversation fruity and feisty

I thought this comment from you was a bit strange " And the amount of selection for each artist..... there might be an argument for a strict rule: treat all artists the same. Emma's show I remember was mainly solo exhibitions, but it included two exhibitions by one artist [at CG and the Adam] and single works by other older figures. Very strange. Quite insulting (in that context) if you are just putting one work in and you saw Fred down the road having two shows. I'd rather be totally left out I think."

that was where I gained one of my impressions about your stance.. thats not particularly unclear writing, you state quite unequivically that the older artists having less work than the younger in the show is insulting. You then followed that up with two more references to fairness and parity based on the positioning of the work:
" but I really think some sort of parity amongst selected artists is essential. [...] firstly to avoid any sort of A Team / B Team nonsense that reeks of preferential treatment"

That didnt seem very unclear either. But perhaps the apparent reinforcement of your earlier statement vis-a vis senior artists feeling insulted, getting the pip and going home was unintended.

:-)

pax
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005

Yeah the Driver, Hotere and Frizzell works looked really out of place, and Darryn George had two shows. I thought -and still think -that was outrageous.
The age thing is a red herring though. My point is not that the old(er) guys were badly treated. Just that three artists were badly treated. It undermined the credibility of the show's structure.
Having said all that, I really liked the City Gallery presentation over all of that particular Telecom Prospect, and disliked the Adam display which was so pokey. Bugden's placing of Ian Scott's 'girlie' paintings opposite Paul Johns 'bunny' photographs in City Gallery I remember as particularly clever.

Sorry if I have gone on a bit about this, alibi. I didn't mean to sound irritable for I enjoy your comments hugely.

alibi
3 articles & 366 comments since 9 Oct 2006
a last thought on this: Driver, Frizell and Hotere all have the following characteristic in common...a single one of their works has the force of their entire ouvre as an aura, which effectively makes individual works larger than they actually are.
So the 'oldy thing' may not be a red herring in this case... you could argue its a different thing to only use one work from these three than it is to do the same with someone with less history backing them up.
were they really treated badly or just afforded their rightful status as historical benchmarks in the contemporary conversation?

BTW, harder to offend than that. I enjoy sparring with you.



jt
6 articles & 46 comments since 2 Sep 2006
It's a very good point you bring up Alibi. It can be very useful in shows of Prospect's nature to position all these hot new artists amongst not only their peers, but also within a more historical context. Not only does it give us some linear context for the newer artists, but it can allow fresh reading of the elder statesmen too. So Hotere becomes not just a benchmark, but remains relevant in the contemporary conversation you describe, and likewise, the relevance of the younger artists can be seen in relation to proven practicianers.
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