Art Scene: Lockdown no reason to miss exhibitions

Covid-19 may be preventing us from getting out and about, but exhibitions can still be enjoyed online, writes James Dignan.

Bewear Bear!, by ChinHauTay.
Bewear Bear!, by ChinHauTay.
“FASHION FWD ) Disruption Through Design”

(Otago Museum)

One of the joys of visiting an art gallery is travelling at one's own pace. Sadly, during lockdown, that is not possible, but thankfully some galleries have created point-and-click virtual tours of their exhibitions. One of these is ‘‘Fashion FWD’’ at Otago Museum.

Originally an extension of Dunedin’s fashion week, the exhibition has been running for a while, but an online tour is a good opportunity for a second look. Much of the exhibition is focussed on designers who have studied at Otago Polytechnic, indirectly commenting on the importance of that starting point for much of New Zealand’s fashion industry.

The virtual display is a tour of the exhibition space. Divided into genres such as Reinterpretation, Escapism, and Well-Being, the exhibition includes both modern and historical items juxtaposed in a way that allows the viewer to examine the many intriguing fashions and also gain some knowledge of their antecedents.

The plentiful information provided on each item provides insights into the thoughts of the designers and where each item fits within its historical and cultural milieu. Items range from the formal to the outlandish, with many impressive and occasionally quirky designs.

The exhibition concludes with five designs by ‘‘Godmothers’’ of the Dunedin fashion scene, designers whose names and designs have spread far beyond the southern south.

Tangaroa, by Cliff Whiting.
Tangaroa, by Cliff Whiting.
“Toi Tu Toi Ora: Contemporary Maori Art”

(Auckland Art Gallery - Toi O Tamak)

Auckland Public Art Gallery’s current overview of recent Maori art is another exhibition with a well thought-out online presence.

Many of the artists represented will be known to Dunedin gallery-goers, especially those who frequent Milford Gallery, but it is good to see their work arrayed in an art museum setting, allowing for the pieces to be given over to specific spaces decorated for this exhibition alone.

This shows the display off to perhaps a greater potential than is possible from even a top dealer gallery. It also allows works by artists not specifically allied to one gallery to be displayed alongside each other, allowing conversations to develop between, for example, the works of Toi Te Rito Maihi and Reuben Patterson.

The exhibition is cleverly arranged to follow the Maori creation myth, with three dark rooms representing nothingness, the long night, and the separation of Rangi and Papa followed by rooms of Te Ao Marama, the rumbling of Tangaroa, and the turning of day to night.

The exhibition culminates in its largest piece, Maureen Lander’s especially commissioned masterwork Atapo, a hypnotic installation constructed of twelve curtain-like fabric drops.

There are many highlights in this exhibition, by artists such as Lisa Reihana, Buck Nin, Robyn Kahukiwa, Israel Birch, and Peter Robinson.

Video still from Artbite: No Mail Today by Allen Maddox, by Rebecca Ogle.
Video still from Artbite: No Mail Today by Allen Maddox, by Rebecca Ogle.
‘‘Artbites’’ video collection

(Christchurch Art Gallery)

Canterbury Art Gallery describes its current status as ‘‘Physically Closed but Digitally Open’’. While tours of complete exhibitions are in short supply on their site, the gallery has an impressive number of other multimedia pieces, notably ten-minute ‘‘Artbite’’ videos focusing on one artwork.

A good example is Rebecca Ogle’s ‘‘tour’’ of Allen Maddox’s ‘‘No Mail Today’’, a 1978 abstract expressionist work constructed in acrylic on canvas from an organic grid of coloured lines and crosses. The narration puts the work in the context of the artist’s complex life, career, and battles with his mental health.

The video narration provides insights into what might otherwise be an inexplicable work, linking the piece to an occasion when the frustrated artist slashed a large painted X over a painting he was dissatisfied with. From that time forth, repeated boxes and X patterns became major motifs in Maddox’s work.

The X became, in Ogle’s words, ‘‘almost a self portrait’’, and certainly became a signature subject for the artist. X becomes, for the artist, both a negation and a completion (it is perhaps no coincidence that it is the last letter of his name).

Other videos in the series focus on works by Sydney Lough Thompson, Eileen Mayo, Elisabeth Pointon, Michel Tuffery, Rhona Haszard, Frances Hodgkins, and more.

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