Monday, March 16, 2015

Somewhere over the rainbow

What’s going on with the Auckland Art Gallery and Michael Parekowhai? It's not about the collections. The AAG has 10 works in the collection and another 13 on loan from Chartwell and it usually includes his work in its permanent collection display (you would, wouldn’t you #popularwiththepublic) but for some reason the Gallery seems to struggle in its relationship with this significant, Auckland-based artist. Some examples:

Thanks but no thanks
   On 27 March the largest exhibition so far of Michael Parekowhai’s work will open to the public. It's a major survey with both new and earlier works putting the artist into perspective.  The weird thing? The Promised Land will open in Brisbane at the Queensland Art Gallery. Will it come to New Zealand or more specifically to the Auckland Art Gallery? No plans at this point. How is this even possible?

Full on Fiona Foley fury   In April last year the Auckland Art Gallery invited Australian indigenous artist Fiona Foley to speak at a symposium. The topic? The changing thinking around Māori art today. Known here for her very public (and well publicised) opposition to a large public commission Michael Parekowhai was given in Queensland, you might expect Parekowhai would have been invited. He wasn’t. And Foley, the only non-Maori of the five participants on her panel, predictably used the event to accuse Parekowhai of cultural theft.

No play  In 2011 Michael Parekowhai was NZ's representative at the Venice Biennale. It was there he exhibited the red carved piano He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river. It was purchased by Te Papa immediately and since then it has been on loan to NZ galleries and museums around the country. At the Christchurch Art Gallery, for example, large crowds came to a temporary venue in the city to hear it played. Its first showing in an Auckland public art institution was at Te Uru in Titirangi. It has never made it through the doors of the AAG.

The sorry State of things   August last year the NZ Herald gleefully went into art bashing mode when it got hold of leaked sketches for a proposed Parekowhai sculpture on Queen’s wharf in Auckland. It did tend to hide behind 'our' correspondents with headlines like Readers up in arms over "offensive, stupid" state house sculpture, etc but it kept the brouhaha going for a week or two. It was left to art patron Jenny Gibbs and Metro’s Anthony Byrt to wade in publicly (Why Michael Parekowhai’s State House Sculpture is Worth Celebrating) in defence of the work. The Auckland Art Gallery? Not a peep.

Rhana Devenport will be at Parekowhai's Brisbane opening later this month, presumably with some of her senior Auckland Art Gallery staff. Let's hope that at the top of her agenda is sorting out with Chris Saines, Director of the Queensland Art Gallery, what's required for a bringing The Promised Land home.