Art seen

‘‘A Land of Granite: McCahon and Otago’’, Colin McCahon.

(Dunedin Public Art Gallery)

Otago Peninsula, 1946. Collection of Dunedin Public Libraries, Rodney Kennedy Bequest....
Otago Peninsula, 1946. Collection of Dunedin Public Libraries, Rodney Kennedy Bequest. Reproduction courtesy of the Colin McMahon Research and Publication Trust.
In many ways, the Colin McCahon exhibition at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery was the perfect return to gallery-based reviewing (as opposed to Covid-19 virtual reviews). The main reason was space itself: McCahon’s engagement with landscape forms and shapes in space, and the curatorial response to arranging this exhibition of Otago-focused paintings in the actual gallery. It was perhaps inevitable that my primary orientation towards this exhibition as a preoccupation with space was prompted by the ability to once again occupy a physical relationship to artworks in an actual gallery.

McCahon was especially driven by the desire to distil landforms to their geomorphological (shape) and spatial essence. In the process of stripping the land almost down to its bones, McCahon was able to achieve a stillness and calm. Of course it is not perhaps possible to consider such an attempt to distil essence as a quiet gesture of humility. The artist’s intentions were grand, and the place McCahon still retains in the art history of Aotearoa is undisputed. It was refreshing therefore, to have an experience of calm, despite the reverence conferred on McCahon.

If the exhibition were larger, if there were more works, if the curatorial focus were less sharp, then McCahon’s ‘‘monumentality’’ may have worked against the opportunity for experiencing the contemplation this exhibition offers. This selection and arrangement manages McCahon’s hubris and enables the calm to come to the fore.

‘‘Dried Floral Arrangements: New Ceramics’’, Madeleine Child.

(RDS Gallery)

Daisy plate (loves me loves me not), 2020 by Madeleine Child.
Daisy plate (loves me loves me not), 2020 by Madeleine Child.
If the title of Madeleine Child’s new exhibition appears factual, even prosaic, the exhibition itself is riotous and resists any straightforward reading of the floral. A good title is generative, and this exhibition works productively with the tension of the seemingly innocuous word ‘‘dried’’ as it precedes‘‘floral’’. The fecundity of Child’s exhibition thrives on the connotations of these two words in relation to love, where the former suggest an aftermath and the latter the potential for flourishing. In aesthetic and physical terms the invariably turbulent dynamics of love manifest in this exhibition primarily as daisies, or what Child’s describes as ‘‘filigree-ish daisy plates in chunky’’.

These chunky, white daisy plates with their deliciously viscous yellow and caramel centres occupy the right-hand wall of the gallery as a profusion of floral exuberance. Each daisy is animated in at least two senses by contortions of wire or deformed coat hangers that function as chains or collars for the plates. In some instances the plates become oversized pendants, in others the wire serves to quite literally push the daisy plate off the wall. In either case, this animation (suggested by the galvanic properties of wire) accentuates the sculptural properties of these earthenware works.

The exuberance of the daisies on the right-hand wall is counterbalanced by five floral arrangements in a neat line on the left. But these are not innocent; they are florid.

‘‘Rhizomes, Repetitions, Dead black deer’’, Richard Killeen.

(Brett McDowell)

Dead black deer,1996 by Richard Killeen
Dead black deer,1996 by Richard Killeen
Rhizomes are the perfect metaphor to approach the work of Richard Killeen. A subterranean root stem, or mass of roots that in turn produces a new root or life, a rhizome replicates and reproduces itself through growth. Killeen’s methodology as an artist is emphatically rhizomatic. He works with typologies and taxonomies that are organised into databases. Database C for example, might include a cat. Over his decades-long career, Killeen’s databases of typologies sprout new roots, take new forms, even mutate.

His latest exhibition at Brett McDowell essentially includes two taxonomic expressions: a singular taxonomy, such as cat, ladybird, or jar, and a combined taxonomy in which different typologies are brought into unexpected relationships with each other. Just one quarter of a combined taxonomy might include a snippet from an early realist painting, an archetypal bird-like human figure, and a patterning of shoes. In these combined taxonomical works, singular typologies are merge and form new configurations. But each element has a history, an origin, or will soon itself become a prototype for the future. Killeen’s relationship to his databases of taxonomies is cyclical and citational.

Killeen will typically include an early work alongside the most recent reconfigurations of his databases, and this exhibition is no exception. The early work in this instance is Dead black deer, an acrylic on aluminium work from 1996 in 16 pieces that can be reassembled in new formations. Endlessly rhizomatic.

Robyn Maree Pickens

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