Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Rinse and repeat

Over the last year or so there's been a run of exhibitions internationally that recreate …um…other exhibitions. The most spectacular so far was the replay of Harald Szeemann's 1969 exhibition When attitudes become form. Squeezed into the Venetian palazzo of the Prada Foundation during the Biennale last year it took the art world by storm. In its wake has been the here-it-is-again version of MoMA's The photographic object 1970 at Hauser & Wirth as well as Other primary structures revisited at the Jewish Museum.

So here's a question - are there any exhibitions in NZ's own history that could do with another outing? You bet there are, and here’s a few to get started with:

Colin McCahon’s Wellington exhibition in 1948. Mounted by Lower Hutt’s head librarian Ron O’Reilly, it nailed McCahon’s efforts to turn the NZ landscape into Bible Land. Many of the works are now in public collections so this would be very doable. We're looking at you City Gallery seeing as how you're in the Library building that hosted the original.

Fifteen New Zealand painters
1952. This was the first exhibition of contemporary art to show outside New Zealand. The dealer Helen Hitchings secured the Irving Gallery in London to show artists like Rita Angus, Louise Henderson, Doris Lusk, Colin McCahon and Toss Woollaston.

Object and image
1954. While this legendary exhibition by the New Zealand Fellowship of Artists might not look so flash today, it's been talked up so much over the intervening years that it would be great to be able to make up our own minds. Colin McCahon had recently taken up a job at the Auckland City Art Gallery and made the famous poster painting (now owned by the Waikato Museum) that hung in the show.

Gordon Walters's first Koru exhibition
at New Vision Gallery in 1966. Only 12 paintings, four drawings and two gouaches to pull together for this one. Mind you the values have increased somewhat since then when Painting number one went for £40.40 (with inflation about $3,000 today).

NZ Maori culture
1966. Fifty paintings and ten sculptures chosen by Buck Nin to represent contemporary Maori art and exhibited in the Canterbury Museum. The exhibition went on to tour overseas and throughout New Zealand. If not the first, it was certainly one of the very early attempts to present contemporary Maori artists.

The active eye 1975. Luit Bieringa introduced New Zealand to photography as an art form in this pivotal 104 image exhibition. The show toured 12 venues in NZ famously losing two controversial Fiona Clark photographs along the way. Word is that the entire show is still packed away in the original crates.

Mothers 1981 toured by The Women’s Gallery in Wellington. Political and opinionated, this exhibition was an extraordinary effort organized by women working on a government work scheme and came complete with a 42 page full colour catalogue.

Choice! 1990 was put together by the very independent curator George Hubbard. The exhibition served up Maori artists as …you’ve got it… artists. It was Michael Parekowhai’s first outing and although it only ran for 18 days and was seen by 555 people according to the attendance book it has become something of a legend.

Headlands 1992 curated by Robert Leonard split the art world and spread Chicken Little syndrome in the institutions (only the National Art Gallery didn’t cancel on the proposed tour to the Auckland Art Gallery, Christchurch Art Gallery and Dunedin Public Art Gallery). OK it’s probably too big to do the whole thing again but how about a sampling or just the Primitive section that caused all the fuss. When Headlands finally showed for a meagre eight weeks (after six weeks of installation) at the Museum of New Zealand it declined to show the film component so maybe that could be resuscitated too.

Parade 1998 was Te Papa’s opening exhibition of contemporary New Zealand art. Now that could be fun to see again just to remember how radical it was and why we all hated it so much. Don’t forget the thumbs up and thumbs down signs next to works so that the audience could have its say.