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The Boys Club

Forum > Reviews

The Model Series

Ian Scott at CoCA - Centre of Contemporary Art
15 Feb 2007 - 4 Mar 2007

by jt
Article of the Month February 2007

"Why should anyone care about the porcelain inanities of a Jeff Koons, let alone suppose that they posed "issues" that should be responded to?"

Robert Hughes asks this question in his essay 'The Future That Was' (The Shock of the New, updated edition, Thames & Hudson, 1991, p.412), and it could more easily be applied to Koon's Erotic works; a series of photographs depicting Koons and his wife performing various sexual acts. Deliberately provocative, Koons had already advertised previous exhibitions utilising pictures of himself with bikini-clad women. These ad's - produced in the late 80's (around the time Ian Scott was finishing up the Lattice series) - had been met with outrage, though they were only a precursor to the Erotic series still to come. Twenty-odd years later and CoCA gives us Ian Scott's soft-porn page 3 girls, which director Warren Feeney states "...are deliberately intended to confront the viewer." ('Confronting Culture', The Press, 8 February 2007, p.D1).

Of course, in those intervening decades, we have seen changes within society which have resulted in The Listener being flanked by Ralph and FHM magazines at the supermarket checkout, music video's revolving around booty-shaking action played on daytime television, and semi-reformed abstractionists have ditched the hard-edged grid in favour of the curved forms found in Hustler. Well, Ian Scott has anyway. So, are they shocking? Well, yeah. But not because they're smut. Basic Instinct 2 is smut, but I'm not expected to take it seriously. Scott, on the other hand, wants us to take these paintings seriously; to ponder the intersection of high and low art (and what this might say about art today). Well, aside from these works, what does Ian Scott say about art today?

"A lot of art today is meant to be assimilated quickly - visual sound bites for audiences wanting quick, easy visual experiences. This is the contemporary equivalent of Salon art, academic painting which pretends to have substance but really doesn't have anything behind the surface." (Ian Scott, 'Confronting Culture', The Press).

Oh dear. I think this is a wildly inaccurate statement, and totally contradictory. It is Scott's Penthouse tributes which have nothing behind the surface. Juxtaposing topless models with Mondrian is a kind of shallow comparison, and not-exactly-sly insertations of his own Lattice works hardly add depth to the conversation. Perhaps more could be said around the issue of appropriation, and indeed copyright infringement, for I suspect that Scott has not sought permission to use the nude images. Is this exploitation of already degraded women? This is murky territory, but at least the models were paid by Hustler. Scott's asking fifty-five thousand for the biggest pieces in this exhibition, so he might wanna share a slice of the pie.

OK, so I'm not a fan of the politics of these works, so what are they like as paintings? Well, therein lies the problem. They are the kind of paintings that look good from across the other side of the room (CoCA lends itself very well to viewing big works of this nature from a distance), but up close are very disappointing. The most interesting part of the biggest works is the great unspoiled expanses of white, metre upon metre of delicious void, but always with a naked lady on the end! They are really quite preposterous, and not particularly well painted; if you're going to use great American abstract expressionist paintings as backdrops to topless women, then you better make sure that you paint them well. Unfortunately, the lines are lazy, the colours more gaudy than lush, and even those big white zones are interrupted by distracting creases in the stretched canvas and lines from the stretcher behind where the canvas has gone slack. These things become amplified when an artist is working on this scale, and though the brushwork on the girls is convincing in a 'pop' kind of way, it is still too chunky for my liking. Ultimately, it is hard to imagine just one of these works on it's own and the presence it would have in any room. The slight eeriness of having so many of these Models in one gallery space is another matter altogether; awkward, disconcerting, and a little bit loathsome.

For somebody who said this show shouldn't be taken seriously, I seem to be taking it awfully seriously. Press reviewer Jamie Hanton stated this week in his review of The Model Series that "...Scott make fools of us, firing shots above the heads of those who take it all too seriously. Thank God." More fool me, I suppose. I'm not particularly conservative, I'm not a feminist, and I appreciate a good joke. At least with Koons, though, there was a punchline, even if it was pretty juvenile. As Adam Gopnik described his fliers: "An amateurish tableaux of the artist with his objects, accompanied by models in bikini's...suggesting a thirteen-year-old's idea of advertising - me, sexy babes, and my stuff." ('Contemporary Reflections', High and Low: Modern Art & Popular Culture, MoMA, New York, 1991, p.398). If The Model Series is meant to be funny, I'm afraid it's a pretty bad joke.

Ian-Scott-Model-Series-No. Ian-Scott-Model-Series-No.-1 Ian-Scott-Model-Series-No.-2 Ian-Scott-Model-Series-No.-3

1 to 20 of 192
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005

jt, have you had a look at the Hanfling book about these published by Ferner. Not convincing I think?
For me Scott's handling of the women's skin is the major issue, because he used to do it so much better. I hate the paint application.
I would rather swoon over the Lattice works or Quiver ones than look at these. A shame because sexual desire is a still largely unexplored subject-matter in NZ, but Scott is not really contributing to the much needed conversation. They are not extreme enough. The subject matter should be nastier and more explicit, not distract you with the horrid paint surface or cute little grills. They are too quaint.

This exhibition on in London might be of interest:


6 articles & 46 comments since 2 Sep 2006
I totally agree John, Scott did used to do this sort of thing better didn't he? When I said convincing in a pop kind of way, I meant that there is a almost a cartoon element to these paintings, and this means one could be more forgiving over the brushwork, but like yourself I find the paint application clumsy and difficult to get past when viewing the works up close. The Barbican show you posted the link to looks fascinating, although I struggle to sit through most 35-minute video artworks, let alone one featuring the facial expressions of a guy getting a blow job! But point taken, the show addresses the subject matter head-on (no pun intended), while Scott only flirts with such ideas.
Spider You
1 articles & 107 comments since 21 Mar 2006
These works remind of those massive (as in - over the top - unnecessarily - large) "tribute to NZ painters" canvasses...which had the same sort of cringe no-appeal as this latest series. There was a long time between drinks on major showings of Scott's work...it must have taken him some time for him to convince someone it would be worth showing his girlie pics. Scott obviously struggles with technique (and concept for that matter) which makes me realise that this is probably the reason he stuck with the grids for so long!!!
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005

Some of those appropriation paintings of Scott's worked I think. I remember a show of whoppers he presented in the CSA in the same space as the current show (during the late 80s) and I found it really interesting. Clever combinations, though not as vibrantly witty as say Imants Tillers with his quotations.

And the chromatically simpler Lattice works rank with Walters as far as I'm concerned. They are sensational. I really adore the blue and white ones.

6 articles & 46 comments since 2 Sep 2006
Yes, but the Lattice works are immaculate. Like the paintings as a whole, even the self-referencing Lattice's in The Model Series are poorly executed.
I don't know that these works are unneccessarily large though. The scale is the most impressive thing about them, and probably what makes them look a lot better from a distance. I had assumed they were a lot smaller than they actually are, so was quite surprised upon entering CoCA to be confronted by such large paintings. If Scott were painting these works using that brush technique on smaller canvasses, the game really would be up. At least these do work from a distance; perhaps the scale is used intentionally to keep the viewer at a distance?
David Cauchi
9 articles & 122 comments since 9 May 2006
So sexual desire 'should be nastier and more explicit', should it JH? There are plenty of nasty and explicit visual representations of sexual desire all over the Internet, and, as the review mentions, pornography has gone mainstream in recent years. I'm not sure the kind of kneejerk transgression by numbers you seem to be advocating is the only valid response by any means.

I don't believe there's any copyright infringement involved in these works, jt. As the MED website points out, 'Copyright protection attaches to original expression. It protects the particular manner of expressing an idea or conveying information.' I'm not a lawyer, but I think this means that you can express copyrighted material in other ways, such as in paintings rather than photos, with impunity.

I very much like the quote about 'quick, easy visual experiences'. Now there's some irony for you!
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
David, my comments are about NZ art and the types of discourse permitted by the artworld. There is something Sundayschool-teacherish about the conversations we encourage here - a consequence of a sort of purtianism encouraged by the influence of McCahon and 80s feminism. (I'm not knocking them - just pointing out their influence). Yawn, yawn, yes I've said all this before on Artbash.

I guess I dislike too much wholesomeness in our galleries, where artists are expected to be goody-two-shoes types who want to cure the evils of the world. I'm not saying that in itself is wrong, only that there is a particularly high percentage here. I'm not advocating unrestrained squalor either, only that art be for adults, not children. It should be addressing a wider range of topics than what we see in our institutions. The art environment seems super cautious when you think about all the possibilities that practices can be. I resent that timidity.
6 articles & 46 comments since 2 Sep 2006
It's all a matter of perception though, isn't it? Some would think that these images aren't timid at all. Feeney said that it was all about confronting the viewer, and I'm sure that there is meant to be some element of shock value to these paintings. The show certainly didn't feel 'wholesome', but I'm sure it pales in comparison to the stuff in the Barbican show. Still, quaint for one person is unrestrained squalor to another.
8 articles & 55 comments since 25 Jan 2006
I was forwarded these emails a few days ago...

Warren Feeney & Staff

Both myself and a senior art lecturer at CPIT (left after looking at the exhibition, but before hearing the 'justification' )! as we were utterly repulsed by the attempt by the Gallery to justify hanging badly-executed, 'soft porn' on the walls.

It's a case of the 'Emperor's new clothes' - Are you unaware - surely you cannot be - it's in the news often enough -1 in 5 women in Aotearoa New Zealand die at their partner's hands. Children are abused daily. CYF cases are the worst in the devloped world. 1 in 4 women is the victim of rape or incest between the years of 10 and 20 in our 'clean, green country'. Images such as these are not art they are further examples of 'the male gaze' and an unhealthy one.

I am considering leaving/cancelling my Memebrship of CoCA utterly because of the hanging of this exhibition.

It is poor work, it is also, exploitative, degrading, not in any way well-painted; 'rough and sloppy' as his former teacher described his earlier attempts to use paint... have a look at the painting of the eyes, not the same size, the sloppy shadowing of the breasts.

This is a money-making effort by the morally bankrupt person who chose to 'justify' his 'wet dreams' in paint and by relating his problems to the wider canvas of Contemporary Art.


This is a formal apology for being unable (due to above professional commitments) to attend the AGM.

However, I have spoken with several other art practitioners in the interim (since sending in my letter of protest regsarding the Ian Scott 'porn show' ) and have their backing to formally protest the Gallery exhibiting such a negative view of women and art. The objective gaze is one thing, being objectified and used (for whatever 'justification' ) is not.

Artists who are wholeheartedly behind/with me on this Martin Whitworth, Sam Mahon. Note that we all paint the nude body and depict same with appreciation, in erotic poses and familial, not in exploitative modes.

Please take note of this.
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
It is good to see art still can generate strong responses, even if it is badly made art. It is as if we are still living in the early eighties, isn't it? That nonsense about rape statistics and 'the male gaze' suggests the absurd notion that 'pornography is the theory, rape is the practice.' Who seriously can believe that in 2007? Artists are free to paint their 'wet dreams' if they wish.
Chris Taylor
1 articles & 308 comments since 30 Apr 2006
Goodness me, it sounds just like the old art society is still alive and well...well, oh well. Where to start, and why to bother. Such a lack of a sense of irony, however heavy handed.
Chris Taylor
1 articles & 308 comments since 30 Apr 2006
An interesting comparison.

Works by Liz Maw and Yvonne Todd.

Is it the works, the exhibition location, or the gender of the artist?
Colleen ytwerta
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005

What are you up to, Chris? With this comparison? Making a statement, asking a question, or warbling?
Strangely here Maw looks influenced by Heather Busch. (I'm thinking of the inspired painting of the underwater woman and the axolotls.) Certainly not Todd - even though they both show with Peter and Ivan. Next thing, she'll be teaching cats to paint.

So Jt, all nutty over-reaction aside, what do you think Scott is up to with these works? There are no ventilator grills included now it seems in these larger ones. So he is focussing on a trope that links sixties modernist abstraction with women wearing lingerie. Is he saying there is a similar sort of desire (for say, collectors) in both? Is there a principle of (unmetaphorical) transparency at play with the garment fabric in contrast with Greenbergian flatness that lies on - and not through - the picture plane? The guy  is obviously paralleling female bodies in underwear with a certain kind of abstraction, and trying to draw our attention to something. Perhaps it is about time and art history?

2 articles & 162 comments since 25 Mar 2006
When I saw the newspaper 'article' about the Scott exhibition, which came out in advance of the show opening, I couldn't help but wonder if COCA's Director was trying to drum up a bit of old-fashioned controversy to pull the punters in -- Virgin in a g-string, or suchlike. It seemed a bit more like a wishful crack at provocation than genuine reportage, given that Mr Feeney was, if I'm not mistaken, the only subject interviewed. (And good luck to him! Not intended as a criticism of his actions to promote his gallery and his exhibiting artist.)

What strikes me now is that the only real controversy about this show seems to stem from the following rather specialised sources:
1. The critical edge of the artworld who are uncertain whether to condemn Scott's project on conceptual, or aesthetic, grounds, or both at once;
2. Unreconstructed feministy types still concerned with the 'male gaze';
3. On the 'evidence' of Art*anker's post above, life-drawing exponents whose minds are on higher things.

We live in a society which has become very much more 'pornified' over the past few decades. The Sunday Star Times was full of it over the weekend. Porn star T shirts, brazilian waxes, advertising once again featuring girls with big knockers, and so on. Does Scott's art reflect and critique this phenomenon? Or is it a symptom? Or does he just like looking at rude pictures?

The jury is out for me on the artistic success or otherwise of Ian Scott's porny abstracts, but I think their effect is interesting.
william blake
29 articles & 728 comments since 15 Aug 2006
re artwankers quote/blurt..

'one in five women die at the hands of their partners' -that is obvious and patent nonsense; the real figure is one woman a week / fortnight dies due to 'domestic violence' . many many women suffer sexual abuse and physical violence aside from this sad fact.

,pornography being the theory and rape being the practice' is probably a bit strong a link, placing objectifying images of women too far along a continuum of; beauty-----violence.

scotts statement, that jt discards, seem to address the link between cheap throw away images of women and cheap throw away art ( is that a copy of a damien hirst dot painting in the main image? ie. a meaningless commercial commodity manufactured by a (drunk) artists assistant )

oh god its so depressing, why do this kind of visual critique, its as bad as a visual pun. ( we all do them but we dont all show them) and to pop a $55,000 price tag on each suggests a confusion of intent.

william blake
29 articles & 728 comments since 15 Aug 2006
oh and the jeff koons pornos' are hillarious
Chris Taylor
1 articles & 308 comments since 30 Apr 2006
The interesting comparison I was drawing on was between Liz Maw and Yvonne Todd's work and Ian Scott.

It could be said that Maw's work deals with the 'male gaze' as well, though there a probably a lot of females gazing as well. I think it is a fetishistic image, with quasi religious overtones. Almost a Hindu style of hallucinogenic imagery. The womans body is depicted with an exaggerated sexuality.

Yvonne Todd also has fetish undertones, which are darker, and more disturbing. I can't help but be reminded of the sexualisation of children and the Russian mafia sex trade, looking at this image. It's not the body, it's the face, the big hair, the make up, and sullen expression.

I haven't heard any outrage about these artist's works from the sorts of people mentioned above.

Now why is that? Well I think it's because Scott, a male artist, is dealing with the fetishistic imagery of pre-feminism, coupled with, what some might describe as the height of American Imperial Art. It's an obvious target all in one package, like a red rag to a red bull.

Then it's at CoCA, which many people still seem to think is funded by the Christchurch City Council or something like it. Therefore it should have a civic responsibility, well it isn't and it doesn't.

That brings me to Scott and his interest in fetishism, there's a lot of it about. Scott's images of women are all clad in what might be described as fetish (though mainstream) lingerie, which was very much part of the male fantasy, sex kitten deal that was the staple of Playboy etc in the 70s. It's a lot raunchier now of course. So there is a particular zeitgeist here, nostalgic perhaps.

The submissive sex kitten juxtaposed with 60s and 70s geometric abstraction, board room Wall Street stuff, painted to almost advertising hoarding size is surely an attempt to critique the commodification of art and sex. Although it's heavy handed, in all sorts of ways, it does pack a punch.

I get the feeling that Scott actually really enjoys painting this stuff, sort of like panel van art. Pimp my ride Ian!
Chris Taylor
1 articles & 308 comments since 30 Apr 2006
Anyhow Scott could take it all so much further, it's almost a bit puritanical at present.

This ad from the 70s starts to hint at the possibilities. I'm reminded of Erving Goffman, and gender advertising.
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005

Here is Emma Bugden's statement from the previous Telecom Prospect:

Clad scantily in lacy lingerie, the women in Ian Scott's 'Model series' paintings pose provocatively next to famous modernist paintings as if they are selling us cars in a showroom. Hung against a bland brick wall, which could be a lounge room in a suburban housing development, the paintings are iconic - from the geometric abstraction of Kasimir Malevich to a funky 'dot' painting by British art star Damien Hirst. The women, copied directly from Playboy, arrange themselves before us with alluring glances and blatantly sexual poses.

Scott's paintings make no distinction between these two very different examples of contemporary western iconography (Western art heroes and Playboy magazine). We might earnestly conclude that Scott is comparing the objectification of the model to the object nature of a work of art, both commodified for consumption in the marketplace. At the same time, the playfulness of the juxtaposition shows a sense of gleeful humour as the artist prods at the boundaries of acceptable taste.

The trajectory of Ian Scott's career spans his early days as one of New Zealand's few Pop artists, his renowned geometric abstraction of the 1970s and, since the 80s, his interest in post-modernism and appropriation. Throughout these changes his paintings have always been stamped with a celebratory recognition of the ordinary and the banal, as well as a wilful pleasure in the ridiculous.

Emma Bugden

Scott interview


ScottIanpic1 ScottIanpic2 ScottIanpic3 ModelSeriescover-0-150-0-3
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
So Portnoy, convince us of the validity of this theory of yours involving space. Tell us why lingerie clad babes, ventilation grills and abstract paintings are such vital components of this spatial investigation.  We are all ears.
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