Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Stevenson's rocket

Last night Michael Stevenson’s survey exhibition opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. It was quite an event. Michael has been based in Berlin for some time now, but he has remained a major presence back home. He was New Zealand’s representative to the 2003 Venice Biennale and has been included in some key touring exhibitions including Toi Toi Toi

The retrospective exhibition at the MCA runs over two floors and is an extraordinary gathering together of Stevenson’s work from the late eighties through to the present. A MONIAC is there, along with early paintings and drawings, films, assemblages of objects, installations and of course The Gift, a replica of Australian artist Ian Fairweather’s raft owned by the Queensland Art Gallery. The spaces the exhibition has been displayed in are about to be renovated so Stevenson and MCA curator Glenn Barkley been given an unusual amount of latitude in how they could break down and recreate experiences around this major selection of work. You can travel from floor to floor via an immense goods lift, step in behind the walls and have your understanding of the chronology of Stevenson’s work truly turned upside down. This is an exceptional reinvention of how to mount survey exhibitions of single artist’s work. 

So why you might ask will we not see this major exhibition of a New Zealand artist in New Zealand? Earth to Te Papa, um…Planet Auckland Art Gallery, are you there? It is beyond comprehension how such a huge effort could have been made to bring all this work together by the MCA and not one of the public art institutions in New Zealand has negotiated to show it. The usual excuses - “We’re at the end of a building programme,” or “We don’t have any spaces to show it in” or “we don’t have the budget” – simply don’t cut it. 

This is a major failure for NZ art professionals collectively. Maybe it is not too late for something to be sorted out with Michael Stevenson, the MCA and the lenders. But in the end, as usual, it will all be about will, will and the conviction that artists with major international reputations like Michael Stevenson remain an important part of New Zealand’s culture. One item of good news in this debacle has been financial support for the MCA exhibition from both Creative New Zealand and the Chartwell Trust.

So it’s an airfare to Sydney if you who want to see one of the best New Zealand exhibitions in years. You’ve got until 19 June.
Image: detail from one of Stevenson's works on show at the MCA