The Chartwell Collection is a large collection of radical art assembled over many years by Rob Gardiner, gifted in a trust to the Auckland Art Gallery. Unusually for a collection begun by a private individual, it reflects the extremes of avant-garde artistic expression and, therefore, contains much work that would probably only be shown in a public gallery. A selection of the Chartwell holdings being shown at the gallery is an excellent foil to the popular Degas to Dali exhibition.
Whereas Van Gogh, probably the most famous 19th century painter in the historic show, at one time pictured the interior of his room in Arles in vivid colour, the Chartwell show exhibits a work by New Zealand artist Daniel Malone recreating the reality of a student flat as a vast installation.
Yet, like Van Gogh, he intensifies the reality. What Van Gogh does with intense colour, Malone does with a huge amount of things. In each room of the installation you see the typical objects you might find in student accommodation but to an exaggerated degree. Not a couple of wine bottle corks but hundreds.
Not a few LPs but box after box of them. The detail is overwhelming, from the bedroom with its mattress on the floor and clothes hung on a rack near the ceiling, to the studio with an old painting awry on the easel, neglected in favour of masses of spray cans.
This abundance of detail exemplifies and typifies not one but all such flats. The room is ironically presided over by a reproduction of an elegant painting by Gainsborough. The whole installation is truly a marvellous thing, lively and curiously touching.
Almost a whole room is given over to the work of Allan Maddox, the most extreme abstract expressionist painter in New Zealand from last century. He devoted his art entirely to making Xs in paint. There was no objective imagery in these crosses; they were his own blunt way of cancelling out the world with a series of bright gestures.
Maddox began by making black and white negative paintings on fabric such as sheeting but his fight against the world became colourful and the paintings a defence against the raw light of reality.
Some other works in the show are small lively gestures using found objects. The most intriguing is a still life by Paul Cullen which is not still at all but a green plastic bucket that mysteriously shifts around endlessly on a little Formica table.
Another small jeu d'esprit is Alicia Frankovich's recent work that balances eggs in a crate on top of an aluminum doorway. A group of videos by Campbell Patterson called Lifting My Mother For As Long As I Can records a ritual performed by the artist each year on his mother's birthday. The implications of life and death and change are very touching.
The videos are a mixed bunch. Richard Maloy has a video that shows him endlessly finding forms by moulding butter. It is both silly and rather revolting but it does fit in with the extreme radicalism of a collection that is evidence of how art has diverged from conventional expectations.
Artspace, also a public gallery, shows work that is not from the conventional commercial world as well as work by international artists. Its latest show, Rambler's Association, is by Adam Avikainen from the United States and Maria Taniguchi from the Philippines. The work of both would fit easily into the Chartwell Collection. One desire common to many artists is to freeze moments into permanence. Taniguchi etches passages from her diary on to wooden panels, puts black cement in cardboard boxes and makes a video of storyboards with image and script that fix strong visual images and the connotations they invoke. This is a work that really repays the time spent watching.
Avikainen also combines script and visual images. His paintings, which scroll down the walls of the main room, take their colour from natural sources: ginger, oil of oregano and turmeric. The result is like a record of a ramble over a clouded landscape with dashes of black thrown in. It is palely impressive but totally impermanent in reality and memory.
George Baloghy has had a consistent career but one completely at odds with radical thinking. His style of painting with skilfully rendered detail has always been far from fashionable trends. Yet his style and subjects are instantly recognisable.
His subjects have usually been locations around Auckland, sometimes with a surreal twist like when he put Picasso's acrobats in Ponsonby Rd.
This new show at Artis features the history of inner city localities such as Kingsland and Ponsonby, and a panorama of the harbour. The paintings are often in two parts, one part black and white and the other in colour. The black and white looks ghostly, the colour is alive. No one else catches the character of the city in quite the same way.
At the galleries
What: Made Active: The Chartwell Show
Where and when: Auckland Art Gallery, to July 15
What: Rambler's Association, with Adam Avikainen and Maria Taniguchi
Where and when: Artspace, 300 K Rd, to May 19
What: Reviving, with George Baloghy
Where and when: Artis, 280 Parnell Rd, to May 20