Friday, October 19, 2007

Wise cracks

Often when you see work in other countries or on tour here, it’s hard not to notice how worn, marked and even cracked some of the paintings can be. This came to mind when we saw this image of a beautiful 1950s John McLaughlin painting. Even though it comes from the hard-edge abstract school, the surface is covered with fine cracks. In a survey exhibition of Mondrian toured in the US a few years ago, many of the works were grubby around the edges and some even sported finger prints. All these effects of wear - the cracks, the smudges - are signs that these paintings have been out there, living in the real world. And none of this rough and tumble diminished the experience of them at all. That laissez-faire attitude seems very different from the pristine condition we expect of work when it is made by our own artists. A small scuff can send a painting by Gordon Walters to the conservator, a surface abrasion or the slightest warping will banish a work by Milan MrKusich from the wall. Someone once suggested that this might be all about the New in New Zealand. After all, you would like to think it would take more than a scuff mark or finger print to visually destroy a Walters koru painting. So why are we so obsesses about insisting our art remain frozen in time, forever young from the day it leaves the studio? Of course this is not to suggest museums should start kicking their works around the store room, but is it such a bad thing for traces of the real world bump up against them every now and then and allow them to grow old gracefully?

Image: A John McLaughlin painting of 1957