Tuesday, July 06, 2010

On the map

Back in 1988 we worked with Charles Eldredge on an exhibition called Pacific Parallels: artists and the landscape in New Zealand that was to tour the United States. Charlie (no one ever called him Charles) had just left the directorship of the National Museum of American Art in Washington for a personal chair in art history at the University of Kansas. As an historian he was intrigued by the connections he saw, particularly in the nineteenth century, between the art of New Zealand and the United States as well as with other nations with colonial histories such as Canada and Australia. In Pacific parallels New Zealand art is seen through knowledgeable American eyes. 

The exhibition started with John Kinder and went on through the decades with artists like Edward Fristrom, Eugene von Guerard, George O’Brien through to Doris Lusk, Ralph Hotere and Colin McCahon and on to Peter Peryer and Anne Noble. To cap it off Charlie wanted to include very recent works and what he had his heart set on was Ruth Watson’s four-part Mappa Mundi (now in the collection of Te Papa). After some reservations Ruth (who was the youngest artist in the show by about ten years) agreed to let it tour and it became something of a centrepiece to the exhibition.

After that sort of recognition, other artists might have moved on from maps and mapping (which like most subject matter drift in and out of fashion), but Ruth has stuck with the fascinations and metaphors of cartography. So, after the 100 artists see God experience, it was good to pick up The map as art: contemporary artists explore cartography by Katharine Harmon. This book on artists internationally working with cartography includes three works by Ruth Watson. John Hurrell is also included with one of his street map works.

Image: Ruth Watson's work Mappa Mundi (partial view) next to McCahon's Tomorrow will be the same but not as this is and, far right, The days and nights in the wilderness in the exhibition Pacific Parallels when it was shown at the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas in November 1991.