Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Where in the world is Peter McLeavey?

In Alan Wright and Edward Hanfling’s book Mrkusich: the art of transformation we noticed some revisionism that could do with an airing. The authors declare that “In Mrkusich’s paintings small things matter” so in that spirit we began a search for Peter McLeavey.

Peter McLeavey sold his first work by Milan Mrkusich in 1966, his first year in business, and held a one-person Mrkusich exhibition in the first year he opened his gallery at 147 Cuba Street. In all, McLeavey had 20 Mrkusich exhibitions between 1969 and 1990 and sold a large number of Mrkusich paintings into public and private collections.

Taking into account this substantial relationship, it is odd that there is only a single reference to McLeavey in the text. Compare this to five page references for Ikon Gallery (three Mrkusich exhibitions), 12 for Barry Lett Galleries (four exhibitions), six for Peta/James Gallery (three exhibitions) and nine page references for Sue Crockford Gallery (19 exhibitions).

Mrkusich’s dealer history is well covered for Lett, Vuletic, Data and Crockford but ignores McLeavey mentioning only a single sale. What’s going on? The incident that resulted in McLeavey and Mrkusich parting may well still smart for the protagonists, but we’d have thought it should not be allowed to distort the history of the artist, his work and his longest-serving dealer. But there’s more.

The “Selected Exhibition History” at the back of the book is indeed selected. The last Mrkusich exhibition at McLeavey’s recorded in the book takes place in 1983. In fact the final exhibition was held in 1990, seven years later, with the result that six of the McLeavey Mrkusich exhibitions are simply vanished. This decision has also eliminated any critical writing done over that period by the likes of Ian Wedde who we assume reviewed a number of McLeavey’s Mrkusich shows. What ever the differences artist and dealer may have had, the job of the historian and critic is to try to tell as complete a story as possible. From the role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a major Mrkusich collector to his championing of Gordon Walters, no history of New Zealand’s brush with modernism could be accurately told without Peter McLeavey and his Gallery as key players.

In the meantime, if you want to find Peter McLeavey, he's where he always is, 147 Cuba Street.

Images: Top, the now famous photograph of Peter McLeavey and Lenin (McLeavey can be seen standing next to the podium to the right of Lenin – click image to enlarge). Bottom, the same photograph as manipulated for the Russian people after McLeavey's disgrace.