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Art Anxious in Captivity

Push Me Pull You, Cat Auburn
Push Me Pull You, Cat Auburn
Push Me Pull You, Cat Auburn
Push Me Pull You, Cat Auburn
Push Me Pull You, Cat Auburn
Push Me Pull You, Cat Auburn
Push Me Pull You, Cat Auburn
Push Me Pull You, Cat Auburn
Installation shot of Cushla Donaldson and Fisher and Paykel Presents the Truth
Mark Amery on Wellington exhibitions playing interestingly with their private gallery environment.


By Mark Amery

The way art is presented in dealer galleries today can sometimes feel anxious, unsure of its footing. Things were simpler when things were dominated by paintings and stand-alone sculptures - carefully packaged insulated little worlds all to themselves.

Now there’s the perception that everything has to have been carefully, curatorially placed as installation, or presented with the clinical spareness of a public gallery (that package in the corner - is it a work in transit, or does it have meaning?). Then there’s selling the work of a multitude of artists whose very work critiques the whole notion of object as consumer item. Oh the irony. It can lead to po-faced try-hard gallery experiences.

Some dealers pull off lively installations with relaxed ease. It’s like you’re entering a house, enjoying the way the arrangement of things reflects a personality and sense of style. Peter McLeavey has been semi-legendary for it and at Hamish McKay’s the enjoyment of, and sense of play with artwork is often apparent. As it is with the current installation of Wellington artist Andrew Beck, even if the works themselves feel a little leaden, lacking the lightness of touch of last year’s strong showing by this artist.

30 Upstairs in Courtenay Place plays the gap between private and public space. Artists are able to take these private rooms to present work themselves. Don’t be fooled into thinking however that work might not be placed for best sales showroom effect. We all have to eat.

That’s under investigation with the current show, Cushla Donaldson and Fisher and Paykel Presents the Truth. From the title alone it’s clear that this visiting artist is considering with welcome wit the division between gallery and showroom, different forms of labour and how objects are dressed to impress. Pride of place in one room is a giant banana boat ice cream parfait. In another darkened space, is a brand new deep freeze with a wooden phallic knob within, lit by the blank blue light emanating from the TV monitor nearby. Artistic knobbish behaviour is generally smartly poked at, as is the way women are treated as consumers. Gleaming rangehoods, lines of kitchen tiles and microwaves are presented as minimalist art installation, to sometimes clever at other times banal effect.

With the arrangement of objects in the gallery shown to have at least attempted to be based around the Fibonnaci’s golden spiral, it can be hard to know when to take Donaldson seriously. Yet this seems to be her point: to comment on the pressure fed to us of achieving perfection, whilst also cut through some of the pretension around the seduction of art display.

As Donaldson sets out herself to be treated seriously she sets a difficult challenge. The exhibition is dense, full of work of such varied visual strategies and media as to render it overly complex. Yet, with strong, engaging paintings and other works aplenty, the show’s struggle with itself is part of what makes it so interesting. 
Also bringing fresh ideas to the city is Cat Auburn’s solo show at Bartley and Company. This is Auburn’s first solo show in a dealer gallery after a number of public gallery outings, and one of the things that impresses is its sure-footed attention to its site.

This gallery was once a stables, and here now a horse rears up against its containment in the courtyard. Giving art in a commercial gallery the sculptural form of animals felt telling. Auburn’s concrete is in varied animated states of attack, seduction and defence. They range in their elongated elegance from natural relaxed stretches, to strain from bridled captured tension. In a blur between play and purpose, each animal ultimately challenges us as to what we’re looking at. They turn back on the proprietory gaze we place over both object and animal.

At first I found the use of concrete a bald compromise for these works future as garden art. After a while however I started to find their roughness and lack of sheen aiding their shapeshifting fluidity in an urban environment, as if they were emerging from the concrete jungle itself. Like dancers, each animal stretches into beautiful but slightly disturbing accentuated poses, never still.


Wellington painter adorns canvas with rich overlays of abstract patterns, channelling the nervous pulse and sap of human internal organic life into the surface of the human figure.

  • Retroplex, Arie Hellendoorn, Suite Gallery, until 27 July

Written by

Mark Amery

18 Jul 2013

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