Wednesday, November 05, 2014

All dressed up and nowhere to go

Masterton used to be a place you went to see contemporary art, then it wasn’t and then it was again and then it wasn’t. So who'd expect to walk into Aratoi, Wairarapa’s Museum of Art and History, and find a major installation of formalist abstract painting? Milan Mrkusich's pursuit of what he calls ‘specific surface’ has occupied him for over 40 years and these three series of paintings from the nineties are shown here for the first time. That these painfully perfect abstract paintings, the sort of paintings that are destroyed by a single scuff mark, have finally made it onto the wall with everyone happy is amazing in itself.  

Anyone who knows the presentation standards demanded by Mrkusich and now executed by his son Lewis can only stand back in awe at a small regional museum taking on such a massive challenge. The gallery spaces have been remodeled and painted to within an inch of their lives. You can still feel Lewis Mrkusich pacing up and down, pointing out imperfections and obsessively checking measurements. In this case there was the added complication of making a tightly specified architectural space so that Mrkusich's paintings could be placed in the arrangement he had imagined. 

Sometimes elaborate installations like this are created as permanent sites, those out-of-the-way destinations of art pilgrimage that the rich and the obsessed trek to throughout the world. But here in NZ, on 31 January 2015, these works will be taken down, packed up and probably never again be seen as an entity outside these few months in the Wairarapa.

Image: Milan Mrkusich installation inspiring a new interest in formal abstraction