Friday, August 22, 2008

Loose lips lose lives

Anyone who has ever tried to write about the social history of art in New Zealand knows it means going back to the newspapers, magazines and catalogues and doing your own interviews. There is very little written down and very few summaries or guides or abstracts or even simple lists. Art New Zealand has done the odd piece and there have been a few exhibitions with the social history of art as their subject. We once did an exhibition about art controversy in New Zealand and spent far too long digging our way through The Woman’s Weekly, the New Zealand Herald and other brittle and dusty records of the times. That’s why when someone like Lois McIvor sets out to write a memoir of forty years in the Auckland art world, it’s worth looking at. The cover alone justifies the price of Memoir of the Sixties and, in the spirit of Errol Morris here are a few observations. Maurice Shadbolt, Lois McIvor, Colin McCahon, Anne Tapper and Garth Tapper having a drink at the Tappers before heading off to an exhibition. It looks as though they are drinking that sixties favourite sherry and, of course, Shadbolt and Tapper are both smoking – Shadbolt supported by his trademark pipe. The rest of them are probably between fags because McIvor smoked and so did McCahon. Anne Tapper has a glass in one hand and what’s got to be dip in the other. Our guess is cheese and onion, a sixties favourite concocted from a pack of Maggi onion soup and a tin of Nestle Reduced Cream. Behind them, perhaps a hessian-covered wall, and the bookcases seem to be full of matching sets. Leaning everywhere are Garth Tapper paintings. Directly behind his pouring arm is one of his best known works from the time, Southdown Boy, purchased in 1970 by the National Art Gallery.

In her memoir McIvor is most interesting when discussing the evolution of the dealer galleries and their struggle to find a place. She also adds to the story of the mysterious Ross Crothall (of the famous cleaning company family) who vanished after a skyrocket Australasian art career. In other areas she is not as forthcoming teasing the reader with “As [McCahon and I] had quite a rapport between us I could ask him the sort of questions that helped him to explain his theories about art…” and accounts of driving McCahon back to Titirangi with him talking all the way home about … about what we are never told. Perhaps, as McCahon did, McIvor thinks we should concentrate on the work. So, unless someone spills the beans, we guess there won't be any let up to the hard slog for art historians with a bent to the social.
Image: Cover photo taken in 1968