Thursday, January 20, 2011

The corrections

Back in the early 1980s the Friends of the Dowse Art Gallery as it was known then (and is almost known again) commissioned a koru painting from the artist Gordon Walters. The commissioning process was overseen by Peter McLeavey and followed a system that McLeavey applied to all his artists’ commissions at that time. The work would be made and presented to the client and if the client did not wish to accept it, the work would become part of the McLeavey Gallery's stock along with any preparatory drawings or studies. The arrangement from a client's perspective was both generous and focusing. 

At the time the Dowse was developing a collection of works on paper and we asked Gordon Walters if he would be prepared to let the Gallery have some of his preparatory collages (these were usually kept by Walters and not made available for sale) with the painting. Although reluctant at first, he agreed to let us have the preparatory work on the condition that it was only to be shown with the finished painting as an educational side-bar. 

Over the years that instruction has been either lost or forgotten and now the collages are usually shown by the Dowse as working drawings. Remembering Gordon’s general approach to life it is hard to imagine this would concern him. Art has to live in the real world and that world is constantly changing. 

And that is why, we guess, we got to see an uncompleted painting from 1941 by Piet Mondrian hanging in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The label made its uncompleted state very clear: New York City 2 [unfinished, formally New York City III]. The pasted-on white tape and the obvious corrections and amendments reminded us of the fundamental contingency of his work, no matter how precise it seems. 

How exhilarating to have Mondrian in the room with us humming and harring over a millimeter, this way or that.
Image: Top left, Mondrian’s New York City 2 [unfinished, formally New York City III] 1941 and details