Thursday, December 10, 2015

Panel work

The Hiroshima panels by Iri and Toshi Maruki were shown at the Auckland City Art Gallery in September 1958. The show was hugely popular, one of the best attended ever at that time, although the media gave it no coverage, much to the annoyance of Peter Tomory, the Director. Also on staff was Colin McCahon who four years later made his own set of panels protesting against nuclear war. This was The second gate series. There are also echoes of the Hiroshima panels in his 16-panel work The Wake.

Over 50 years later these NZ cultural touchstones are on exhibition at Pioneer Works in Red Hook, New York. So we went to see them. As it turned out just three of the sets of panels shown in Auckland were in the NY set. The work has grown. The entire suite now comprises 15 large screens of which five were painted after the tour to New Zealand. It serves as a reminder of how bold Tomory was in introducing art that dealt with contentious politics, ethics and memory into Auckland at that time. The trauma of the Second World War would have still felt close in 1958 and the reported high attendances show he got it right. With the Hiroshima panels he helped lift our sights to the rest of the world.