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The Prospectors

Installation shot of some of Robert Hood’s works.
Eve Armstrong Taking Stock 2010 – 11.Found plastic packaging, Perspex, mirror off cuts, found objects; Courtesy of the artist and Michael Lett, Auckland
Robert Hood The Wrecked Kilometer 2009. Found road markers. Courtesy of the artist
Mark Amery professes his love for a puddle in Civic Square - part of City Gallery Wellington’s Prospect exhibition.


By Mark Amery

I’m in love with a puddle. A puddle in Civic Square that, like any other, gathers an ever-changing mix of rain, grass clippings, sticks and trash.

By Mark Amery

I’m in love with a puddle. A puddle in Civic Square that, like any other, gathers an ever-changing mix of rain, grass clippings, sticks and trash.

Part of City Gallery’s Prospect exhibition, at a glance you’d think it just a concrete cavity where the brick paving had broken away. Yet look closer - as you might into a rock pool this summer – and you’ll find painted rocks and a range of gold plated everyday ephemera embedded in its bottom.

It was endearing on opening night to observe gallery staff watering their puddle - the way they might usually a pot plant. Every time I’ve passed by since the puddle has made me appreciate the environment around it more.

The puddle is the work of Kate Newby, one of 16 artists who make up City Gallery’s survey of ‘New Zealand Art Now’ (as this fourth Prospect has been rebranded). It’s full of works that step outside of traditional expectations of what art looks like to consider the way we look at and experience the world.

I’ve overheard a number of ‘that’s not art’ comments in the gallery. Take a deep breath I say – accept, like the prospector, you’ll need to work harder to find the gold here, and be open to finding beauty in new experiences.

Stripping the gallery of labels, refreshingly curator Kate Montgomery treats viewers as mature enough to accept that art is all about challenges, and emphasises that these works are all about playing with our interpretation of a space.

This is the most elegant survey of New Zealand art I can recall seeing. Unlike predecessors it doesn’t try to cover the gamut of contemporary art, overcrowding the gallery. Instead it recognises a dominant strain in our art of the past four years (which has had limited exposure in Wellington), and gives it space to breathe and make intelligent conversation.

Of all of the Prospects it reflects the character of its time. It is about how we look at, connect and contain things. In a time when the delivery mechanisms for culture are changing rapidly and we’re overloaded with imagery and information it’s natural that art play smartly and lightly with context rather than content.

Just as the cubists once made puzzles out of objects, these artists make them out of how we communicate. Where all else is noise and overload, this show is spareness and restraint. The show’s style is neatly visually symbolised by John Ward Knox’s giant chain that passes through the central space, casting elegant shadows.

Eve Armstrong’s installation of opaque plastics and Fiona Connor’s of newspaper stands, balance each other in East and West Wings of the building. Their seemingly casual arrangements of objects challenge how we navigate the gallery space. Between them is Fiona Jack’s presentation of a 19th century photograph, with an accompanying pamphlet recording a conversation about the image. The work is not about the object but how together as a community we might read it.

Many works like this talk cleverly to City Gallery’s former life as a library. The way we collect and present information is central to the exhibition – from Simon Denny’s exploration of corporate video presentation, to Ruth Buchanan’s use of slide carousels and microfiche. In a play with the self-portrait, Robert Hood has relocated the late artist Tony Fomison’s entire library to the gallery. It is sited where a Fomison painting was in the Oceania exhibition.

There are only a few art objects here and all offer new challenges. Ava Seymour’s beautiful large collage (badly sited but in interesting conversation with Robert Hood and Jacqueline Fraser) has reflective glass that forces you to consider the space you’re in. Fraser’s angular, punk multimedia collage work is what many might have expected Seymour herself to be now making.

It is not a show to be rushed. Like Newby’s puddle it is about the small and subtle things that reward time spent. Things you might hold in a book or in your head. And like Sriwhana Spong’s video of a dancer, the show itself is an exquisitely choreographed exploration of the language of space.

  • Prospect: New Zealand Art Now, City Gallery Wellington, until 12 February

Written by

Mark Amery

8 Dec 2011

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media.