Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The fourth floor

A ways back, some museums and art galleries used to claim to be a “neutral negotiating ground”. The idea was that they provided a context that was as far as possible neutral so that people could debate, question etc. So much for that. This is where the idea of Te Papa came from but it was quickly subsumed by stories. Any combination of objects tells a story and tells different stories depending on who’s doing the looking.

That’s why a new collection arrangement at Te Papa, Aspects of Abstraction is so…unusual. The works on show are ten works by Julian Dashper, three by Don Driver and two each by Milan Mrkusich and Chiara Corbelletto (these numbers may not be exact, but they give a sense of the mix). The wall text claims that the show is designed to give insights into “a distinct kind of abstract art over three decades.” What “distinct kind” could this be? Mrkusich labours over hand-crafted surfaces, Dashper outsources production to fabricators, Driver makes collages out of pre-used materials and Corbelletto, while perhaps more in the Mrkusich camp, is a sculptor rather than a painter. If there is a coherent theme to the show is seems to come down to the assertion that there are many different kinds of abstraction.

That’s one way of looking at it. You could also see it as a radical elevation (for Te Papa anyway) of Julian Dashper into the company of Mrkusich and Driver. Ten works is a serious statement in a show like this and offers a virtual mini-survey of Dashper’s output from the nineties. Te Papa’s curators, however, give no rationale for us to chew on, so let’s make our own connections. Like three of the four artists are represented by one Wellington dealer. You could go on. Te Papa’s art exhibitions have mostly been of the one-of-that and one-of-this and don’t forget one-of-those style of curation. Who would have thought that a show blandly titled Aspects of Abstraction would turn out to be the feistiest animal Te Papa has released since the McCahon /fridge combo?
Image: One of the Aspect of Abstraction galleries showing work by Mrkusich, Dashper and Driver