Someone really adept at making intellectual connections might be able to make links between the work of Kim Beom at Artspace and Raymond Ching at Artis.
Ching came to prominence as the illustrator of The Readers Digest Book of British Birds, and the Korean artist appears in a video where he reads about birds to a rock selected because it roughly looked like a bird.
This action gives the title to the show at Artspace, A Rock That Was Taught it Was a Bird.
The principal work, in the small gallery, shows the artist earnestly reading from a textbook on birds while the rock is perched on the sawn-off branch of a tree. On the wall are diagrams of birds. The speech and manner of the artist is warm and instructive and accompanied by formal English subtitles. At the end, the rock is taken in a manner that resembles flight over a field and placed in a tree.
The first response of the viewer might well be dismissive - here we are back in 1965 with Joseph Beuys and his How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare - but the voice, the situation and the flow of information become hypnotic. Despite the absurdity, the viewer is drawn in. Beuys took on the persona of a shaman, demonstrating problems of language and thought. Something of the same is going on here, but more lightheartedly.
The rest of the show, which overall is supposed to be about the complex relationship between objects and people, is dismal.
The main gallery has the scattered results of a series of violent acts by the Japanese performance artist Koki Tanaka. The violence is mostly directed at polystyrene and boxes, but at one point a bucket is thrust into another pail covered by a poster advertising a New Zealand artist, who is effectively ripped apart.
The anti-art gestures in the show extend to the work by recent Wallace Prize winner Dan Arps.
His work is a mocking parody of a tourist art attraction and, by implication, all art that interests travellers. It makes the point by being singularly banal and unattractive.
Ray Ching's work at Artis has some drawbacks, too, but it is certainly not unskilful. It shows his astonishing gift in handling paint to convey completely convincingly the appearance of animals and birds as well as their settings.
In his previous shows here, the birds have been associated with women and they have both been flying high. In those paintings, the highly accurate bird studies convey a sense of metaphor and symbol. They hint at freedom and the interaction of humans and wild life. They leave room for the imagination to work.
This exhibition is far more in the nature of illustration. Because these paintings will ultimately end up as a book, they are far more specific. The show is called Aesop's Kiwi Fables - Kiwi because most of the players are indigenous birds, with guest parts played by cats, rabbits and monkeys. Many of the animals are given human expressions, although very subtly.
The painting technique remains the same, brilliantly conveying many different shades of the bush, the snap of wire, the peeling paint on a fence and the texture of worn-out tyres.
The birds are often wonderful, but many of the ideas are very conventional: the spectacle on the kiwi's nose, the cat as doctor and the sudden intrusion of a unicorn. The works are undoubtedly appealing, but their explicitness leaves little for the viewer's mind to work on.
This is Ching as a brilliant illustrator.
The title of Glenn Wolfgramm's spectacular show of paintings at Orexart is Come Here Palangi.
From this, you might expect an explicit statement about Polynesians and the Pacific, but since his first exhibition in 1998 Wolfgramm has been developing his images of the city in all its criss-crossing intersections and inter-weavings.
His paintings have become denser with every exhibition. These paintings are almost swamped with black: the black of tyres, roads, cars, power lines and overhead structures.
In a painting like Scissor, the lines drive forward into deep perspective, whereas in Trophy there is a horizon and the lines drive across the painting. The upper part is filled with fluttering shapes, the lower part with the endless crossing of traffic. Yet the centre has bright lights and an over-arching figure like an obscure, presiding deity.
In the midst of all this tense, emotional energy there are glimpses of elements of Polynesia, with little patterns from tapa cloth, tattoo and carving, so there is an identification with the Pacific's largest city. It is not so specific as to rob these intricate and powerful paintings of their universality.
It is indicative of the confidence Wolfgramm has attained that the biggest painting, called Site, is nearly 5m long and every part has vitality.
There is vitality of a different, calmer sort in the elegant, rich, abstract work of Kathryn Stevens at Whitespace. Her paintings have two levels.
The lower level is a regular grid with fields of colour between fine lines. Over this is imposed a grid of wider lines, again encompassing fields of colour. The two layers interact: the inner layer is static while the outer layer swings outwards, inwards or like a wave across the canvas in a wonderfully rhythmic and musical way.
Though these paintings move in space in many different ways, the individuality of each painting is founded in its colour harmony. Frame #3, which forces outward, has rich russet-reds and brown, whereas Canopy, which curves gently inwards, is a harmony of blue and pale green.
These delightful paintings are supplemented by a series of drawings that make precise dances of line in space.
The subject of birds returns in an impressive exhibition of lithographs at Seed Gallery. John Pusateri is a fine lithographer and a master draftsman.
The show, called Skin and Bone, contrasts the limp featheriness of bird skins with the hardness of the bones of a skull.
AT THE GALLERIES
What: The Rock That Was Taught It Was A Bird by Dan Arps, Kim Beom, Layla Rudneva, Koki Tanaka
Where and when: Artspace, 300 Karangahape Rd, until Nov 20
TJ says: A strange lecture, a violent performance, a photograph and a witless parody do very little for contemporary art.
What: Aesop's Kiwi Fables by Ray Ching
Where and when: Artis Gallery, 280 Parnell Rd, until Nov 13
TJ says: Ching's brilliance in painting birds illustrates fables set in New Zealand for a book and the specifics limit the impact of the painting.
What: Come Here Palangi by Glen Wolfgramm
Where and when: Orexart, Upper Khartoum Place, to Nov 13
TJ says: Wolfgramm's evocations of the city with flashes of Polynesian imagery are developing into images larger and more energetic.
What: Frame by Kathryn Stevens; Shatter by Martin Whitworth
Where and when: Whitespace, 12 Crummer Rd, Ponsonby, until Nov 6
TJ says: Elegant grids moving through space, each with its individual colour harmony, make an appealing, lovely exhibition. By contrast, there is the immediate graphic response of an artist who lost his home in the Christchurch quake.
What: Skin and Bone by John Pusateri
Where and when: Seed Gallery, 23A Crowhurst St, Newmarket, until Oct 31
TJ says: Splendid, if rather grim, lithographs by a fine draughtsman who has concentrated on this form of printmaking.It is indicative of the confidence Wolfgramm has attained that [his] biggest painting is nearly 5m long and every part has vitality.
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