Current Exhibitions

ModCon

15 Jul - 9 Aug 2017

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Artists

Exhibition Works

Orange, Ochre
Helen Calder Orange, Ochre (2016)
Purple, Ochre
Helen Calder Purple, Ochre (2016)
Cobalt, Yellow
Helen Calder Cobalt, Yellow (2016)
Blue [9.02.16]
Helen Calder Blue [9.02.16] (2016)
Yellow [9.02.16]
Helen Calder Yellow [9.02.16] (2016)
Red [9.02.16]
Helen Calder Red [9.02.16] (2016)
Stacked [13.04.17]
Helen Calder Stacked [13.04.17] (2016)
A 'Penumbra' (In Memory of My Father)
Gretchen Albrecht A 'Penumbra' (In Memory of My Father) (1996)
Winter Solstice
Ralph Hotere Winter Solstice (1988)
Untitled [21542]
Oliver Perkins Untitled [21542] (2014)
Untitled [21541]
Oliver Perkins Untitled [21541] (2015)
Untitled [21540]
Oliver Perkins Untitled [21540] (2015)
Matt Blue Conical Necked Bottle [14-143]
John Parker Matt Blue Conical Necked Bottle [14-143] (2014)
Matt Blue Conical Vase [14-137]
John Parker Matt Blue Conical Vase [14-137] (2014)
Matt Purple Conical Bowl [14-148]
John Parker Matt Purple Conical Bowl [14-148] (2014)
Matt Lilac Conical Necked Bottle [14-150]
John Parker Matt Lilac Conical Necked Bottle [14-150] (2014)
Volcanic Wall Portal [17-44]
John Parker Volcanic Wall Portal [17-44] (2017)
Volcanic Wall Portal [17-45]
John Parker Volcanic Wall Portal [17-45] (2017)
Following Blue
Mervyn Williams Following Blue (2009)
Ring Cycle
Mervyn Williams Ring Cycle (2010)
Shin #4
Natalie Guy Shin #4 (2017)
Soe #6
Natalie Guy Soe #6 (2017)
Shin #5
Natalie Guy Shin #5 (2017)
Blind Form Umber #2
Natalie Guy Blind Form Umber #2 (2015)
Blind Form Ebony #4
Natalie Guy Blind Form Ebony #4 (2015)
Plain Song: Columns of Light - Snow Over Tussock
J S Parker Plain Song: Columns of Light - Snow Over Tussock (2016)
Plain Song: Vertical Lyric Suite - From the Vineyard
J S Parker Plain Song: Vertical Lyric Suite - From the Vineyard (2016)
Lattice No. 138
Ian Scott Lattice No. 138 (1986)
Untitled
Gordon Walters Untitled (1972)
Kapiti
Gordon Walters Kapiti (1984)
Then
Gordon Walters Then (1980)
Untitled (Long Room with Carvings)
Graham Fletcher Untitled (Long Room with Carvings) (2017)
A Whole and Two Halves (Ochre) [21580]
Simon Morris A Whole and Two Halves (Ochre) [21580] (2017)
A Whole and Two Halves (Black) [21579]
Simon Morris A Whole and Two Halves (Black) [21579] (2016)
A Whole and Two Halves (Grey)
Simon Morris A Whole and Two Halves (Grey) (2016)
A Whole and Two Halves (Red)
Simon Morris A Whole and Two Halves (Red) (2017)
A Whole and Two Halves (Black) [21578]
Simon Morris A Whole and Two Halves (Black) [21578] (2017)
A Whole and Two Halves (Ochre) [21577]
Simon Morris A Whole and Two Halves (Ochre) [21577] (2017)

curators' talk

 
 
Curators Vanessa Jones and Lisa Wilkie discuss a selection of works which illustrate the themes of ModCon.
Video production: Fabia Oliveira
 

exhibition text

ModCon considers how the works of selected senior artists fit into a canon of New Zealand Modernism. Juxtaposed with this are works from contemporary artists whose practices interrogate the ways in which paint and sculpture can simultaneously illustrate and subvert the fundamental elements of their chosen medium

Clement Greenberg’s seminal essay Modernist Painting (1960) provided a definition of modernism that has continued to echo throughout the intervening decades. Invoking Kant’s Critique of Reason, Greenberg outlined modernism’s essential self-reflexivity and positioned it firmly within the modernist paradigms of progression and empiricism. Extraneous influences were of no concern to modernism; art’s narratives were of itself, and presented according to its own (medium-specific) parameters. Art used its fundamental properties to criticise “from the inside” (1). Modernist art could be said to epitomise the logical endpoint of Marshall McLuhan’s declaration (2) where medium = message = medium in a closed, self-referential loop.

For many, the phrase ‘modern art’ conjures up paintings that are non-realist and non-figurative. They do not ‘show’ anything nor are they ‘like’ anything other than themselves: they possess none of the objects (subject-matter) that Barnett Newman declared most people want to see in an artwork and which “for them, makes the painting seem full” (3). Confronted with an abstract painting, viewers might try and find forms that look like a recognisable object and the age-old phrase “my child could do that” is still uttered, especially in reference to minimalist works.

Graham Fletcher’s work Untitled (Long Room with Carvings) encapsulates for many the notion of a ‘modern’ interior: low-slung furniture devoid of decorative excess, a linear architectural style that references the Bauhaus dictum of form following function, an emphasis on the materiality of the stone and wood finishes. The interior is completed with a Rothko-esque colourfield painting and a collection of artfully displayed ‘tiki’ items – tribal artifacts appropriated into the modern discourse due to the aesthetic affinities “between modern and ‘tribal’ art that transcended time and space” (4).

The abstract works by Gordon Walters, Ian Scott, and Mervyn Williams are some of the most recognisable modernist artworks in the country. Walters distills a traditional Māori motif into a ‘universal’ language of geometric abstraction and in the process strips it of its cultural narratives. These and Scott’s Lattices demonstrate New Zealand examples of Frank Stella’s proposed solution to what he saw as the problems of painting:

One [problem] was spatial and the other methodological. In the first case I had to do something about relational painting, i.e., the balancing of the various parts with and against each other. The obvious answer was symmetry [a solution which] forces illusionistic space out of the painting at a constant rate by using a regulated pattern (5).

The works of Walters, Scott, and Williams operate as “art preoccupied with its own process and means” (6) – in this case the flatness of the surface, the rectangular form of the canvas, the application of the paint, the role of colour. Distinctions between figure and ground are dissolved and any illusion of movement and depth is purely a function of opticality, a principle especially exploited by Williams.

Simon Morris’ subtle monochrome canvases approach most closely the purity of painting espoused by Ad Reinhardt: “Abstract painting is … the first truly unmannered and untrammeled and unentangled, styleless, universal painting. No other art or painting is detached or empty or immaterial enough” (7). Morris’ works are an intimate investigation of paint’s physical properties: its viscosity, its chemical composition, the ways in which it reacts to gravity and temperature, the surfaces created by layering. In addition to his consideration of colour and surface, Morris explores the temporality of an artwork. Each of his canvases speak to a measured set of actions that are dependent on the movement of paint down the surface, its collection, dilution and re-application. Although the hand of the artist is not necessarily visible, it is deeply embedded in each painting.

Morris, Williams and Scott compose the elements of their paintings with an emphasis on the rectangular form of the canvas, Gretchen Albrecht’s shaped Hemispheres canvases subvert the expected physical boundaries of a painting. A 'Penumbra' (In Memory of My Father) is simultaneously painting and object. We see the same concerns in the works of Oliver Perkins. The painted surfaces push out from the frame and the viewer is consciously aware of the artwork’s materiality. Perkins highlights the tension that exists between the painting as an object and the painting as a painted surface. The surface acts as a skin that is stretched across its three-dimensional supports and also as an exploration of the relationships of line and colour.

Helen Calder takes the idea of painting as object to its extreme iteration. The painted surfaces are wholly divorced from the canvas and operate of their own accord within space. Stacked or draped over a support, Calder’s works can be seen as sculptural paintings or painterly sculptures. They reference both the reduction of painting to its absolute essence and a solution to the problem of the non-neutrality of the rectangle (8). As sculptural objects they remain faithful to the medium used; Calder does not seek to represent the paint skins as other than what they are. The works depict nothing but exist as themselves: they have volume, mass, form, surface area. It is this self-reflexivity that the artist invites viewers to reflect upon.

As objects, the bronze and brass works of Natalie Guy are also distanced from a representative tradition. Her Blind Forms draw attention to the specificities of sculpture as an art form - the occupation of space, the tactility of surface, the density of the medium. Her Shin and Soe works might be considered too narrative-laden for the modernist sensibilities of Ad Reinhardt or Clement Greenberg, but they too are concerned with how forms inhabit the world. Implicit in these pieces is the sense of potential movement and, therefore, of a form which is dynamic. The bronze branches seen in each of the works operate on a representational level, but Guy disrupts a realist reading of the sculptures by linking them to the heavily stylised elements of ikebana. The branch form is subsumed within the entirety of the sculpture and its relevance is not that it resembles a real-world object, but its relationship to the other elements of the work and to the space in which it sits.
 
  1. Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting”, Art in Theory 1900 – 1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, edited by Charles Harrison & Paul Wood, Blackwell Publishers, 1992, p. 754-760.
  2. Marshall McLuhan, “Chapter 1: The Medium is the Message”, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, McGraw-Hill, 1964.
  3. Barnett Newman, “Interview with Dorothy Gees Seckler”, Art in Theory, p. 764-766.
  4. Partha Miller, “Interventions: Decentering Modernism: Art History and Avant-Garde Art from the Periphery,” Art Bulletin, Volume XC, no. 4, 2008.
  5. Frank Stella, “Pratt Insitute Lecture”, Art in Theory, p. 805-806.
  6. Ad Reinhardt, “Art as Art”, Art in Theory, p. 806-809.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Donald Judd, “Specific Objects”, Art in Theory, p. 809-813.

Exhibition Views