by Leanne Gimicke
Behind Closed Doors at Wellington’s Adam Art Gallery is a new show that brings together works excavated from private collections throughout the Wellington region by curator Christina Barton. The exhibition begins with an exciting, and unexpected, pairing of Rita Angus and Simon Denny. Deep Sea Vaudeo by Denny and a painting by Angus occupy the Window Gallery. The Denny and Angus combination opens up a space for the content of each piece to connect on different registers. Facing the window, Denny’s dated CRT television looks out, set atop an equally dated cabinet. On screen, the presenter speaks about various televisions on display within the video as said televisions play ubiquitous store-display style aquatic videos in the background.
On the flip side of the wall, Rita Angus’s painting of a fish is linked though it’s similarly aquatic subject matter. Like Denny’s work, the subject stands in as a symbol, a reference and a metaphor. Here an historical painting and old technology gain fresh meaning, as they begin a discourse that represents them anew. Barton asks in the wall text how meaning might be present within collections- how particular orders might hold particular ideas.
“the curator places the collections in the context of a discourse”1
Barton has not included the names of the collectors she has acquired the artworks from.
In the Congreve Gallery space adjacent, a painting by Woolaston presents a panoramic view of a mountain he painted from a peak overlooking the landscape. The title of the work is 1938, yet the wall notes indicate the work was done decades later. The inclusion of the work suggests a contemplative view of the history of New Zealand art while considering, like the landscape in Woolaston’s painting, that something may hold more than one temporal or contextual layer of meaning when viewed from a future time and place.
“…by establishing a fixed repertory of temporal references that can be replayed at will, in reverse order if need be, collecting represents the perpetual fresh beginning of a controlled cycle…” 2
L. Budd’s work on the Mezzanine alludes to the way context might inform the meaning and understanding of objects and artworks. The work consists of an open suitcase of miscellaneous items opposite a series of photographs, “adjusted” by the artist- the photographs are muted by strokes of white paint obscuring all but the suitcase and a sign in the background of each image that indicates the location the photograph was taken.
Descending down towards the Lower Chartwell Gallery, a large painting by Shane Cotton confronts the viewer at the bottom of the stairs. Alongside the Cotton, a selection of other works, hung around the stairs and along a thin transitional space before the Lower Chartwell Gallery delineate the layout of work and play with an adjusted hierarchy. A scaled-down stealth plane work by Peter Robinson is hung above the stairs, while towards the end of the corridor are a Gordon Walters and finally, two Ralph Hotere paintings.
Cotton, Robinson, Walters and Hotere downstairs form their own mini exhibition. Their pieces are all drawn from the late 80’s and 90’s, a time where they were all enjoying practises as contemporary artists first and foremost – their racial standing taking second place. These three are usually illuminated within the white cube, they are important figures in the history of contemporary New Zealand art. However, at the Adam they are situated at the bottom of the stairwell, in the thoroughfare. This does not seem to be a task in disrobing these iconic three, perhaps more a quiet nod to the path they have paved.
The Inimical: A Selection from The Retreat (by g. bridle) is a space of solace from a conventional museum style display in the Kirk Gallery that posits itself as a private collection within the larger exhibition of collected items in the Adam. The Inimical presents “deliberately produced” fragments, resisting the convention to categorize the items. g. bridle self-reflexively presents objects that are on display precisely as objects to be viewed. This is done through the use of exhibition as a medium; g. bridle’s careful consideration of the formal presentation techniques of exhibition such as the nature of shelving and particular framing affect the ‘neutral’ display of the objects and draw attention to their staging.
“The museum is still defined as a repository of works, one that, according to its consensual quality, gives cultural standing to whoever owns it.”3
Within The Inimical, a photograph of a crow, a collector of particular shiny items it deems important, hints towards an arbitrary collection method, much like Behind Closed Doors which isolates a criteria- work from private collections in Wellington- in order to assemble a display.
“You who read me- are you certain you understand my language?”4
Baudrillard suggests that all objects that are possessed by a collector submit to a mutual relationship with all the other objects in a collection. This relationship renders all objects in a collection equivalent because they all refer back to the collector and the collector determines their meaning.
In the Lower Chartwell Gallery is a section on abstract paintings; the show notes ask whether abstract painting might be the perfect collectable commodity. Abstract painting is a trace of the world, suppressed and removed from nature in an attempt to possess it. Abstract paintings then mirror items from collections that are also removed from their original contextual space.
Paintings by artists such as Julian Dasper, Patrick Lundberg, Bill Hammond line the walls of the rectangular space. On the end wall a Michael Smither’s painting of a diver suspends time in the freeze-frame image of a figure mid-dive. The diver’s trajectory in the painting is not evident nor is the point of origin. We can know about this single isolated moment but all others evade us…
The diver like the collected artworks in Behind Closed Doors, records a specific moment in time. This exhibition charts New Zealand art history through a series of moments, traces of which Barton has uncovered in private collections in Wellington. Barton has brought the objects from private collections into the space of a public art gallery, examining how these works function as part of a new larger order of other works that have also undergone “passionate abstraction”5 in the act of collection. Behind Closed Doors considers the potential for artworks to accrue new meaning and value as they develop a distinguished provenance through contact with new owners and contexts.
“We live in a world where practical and ethical coherence depends on the ability to invent meaningful connections between incommensurable cognitive territories but also on the ability to inhabit creatively the uncertain interstices between these continually mutating zones.”6
1 Luis Camnitzer
2 Roger Cardinal
3 Luis Camnitzer
4 Jorge Luis Borges
5 Jean Baudrillard
6 Olafur Eliasson