Galleries: Latest exhibitions not all sweetness and light

By T.J. McNamara

Three very different shows share the ability to make the viewer think.
Stephen Allwood, Orexart,  Trifle 2.
Stephen Allwood, Orexart, Trifle 2.

Two exhibitions in prominent galleries immediately next to each other show works that are poles apart in concept and execution. Both shows may be trapping themselves in a cul-de-sac but in very different ways.

Hopkinson Mossman Gallery features a radical installation by Tahi Moore called Elements of Misdirection. He's been selected to exhibit in shows in public galleries such as Auckland Art Gallery and Artspace so may be considered a well-established artist.

Hopkinson Mossman
What: Elements of Misdirection by Tahi Moore
Where and when: Hopkinson Mossman Gallery, L1/19 Putiki St, Arch Hill, to May 7
TJ says: Sound, vision, light and letterpress enigmatically demonstrate problems of communication and philosophy.

A structure that occupied a whole room was one major work shown at Artspace. Strongly constructed of timber, it was a ramp that began on one wall, turned the corners and climbed almost to the ceiling on the opposite wall.

If you walked up the ramp you were gradually forced to bow your head and finally crouch under the ceiling. It was metaphor for the restrictions and limitations that gather round a person in contemporary life and in keeping with earlier works, called Paranoid Structures, in public galleries.

The pieces at Hopkinson Mossman are more cross-disciplinary, since they involve sound and video. The first work we encounter, The decaying past will leave us alone 2, comprises two speakers mounted in a simple but strongly constructed cabinet. The speakers emit a quiet murmur, recognisable as speech but only just. Hearers may remember the tone of the talk because the speaker is probably Billy Connolly but it is postulated they will have forgotten any detail of what was said.

The decaying past 2, in the main gallery, is a lightbox turned to the wall showing its plain back. The illumination thrown on the wall is a pale halo. The lightbox is connected to four framed backlit tablets. They display simple messages in few words in black lettering.

In a corner, on the floor, is a television screen and that may be the key to the work. It is titled I always get my subjectivity wrong. The loop runs for about four minutes. We see two similar town squares with a fountain. One is Hallstadt in Germany; the other, we are told, is a copy in China. In the genuine one, a man briefly rides a bicycle around the rim of the fountain basin.

Most of the rest is short aphorisms with philosophical propositions. They pass too quickly and are not long enough to establish a real thought. Typically one says "Karl Popper in Christchurch". Does this refer to the isolation of the famous philosopher at the edge of the world, the influential writing he did there, his theories about politics and science, or is it just a passing mention?

All of the writing is about thoughts without structure. Is the randomness the point? Moore is making work to show that meaning is often misunderstood, misconstrued and mistranslated but his means are too subdued and oblique to carry such an existential weight of confusion convincingly.

WHAT IS next door in Orexart is more obvious and more commonplace. Stephen Allwood's exhibition, Dessert, is a celebration of lusciousness. The gallery is filled with large paintings of heavy glasses filled with fruit, berries, thick cream and trifle. Chocolate cakes, pavlova and preserved peaches add variations. These overwhelming, extravagant concoctions provide rich contrasts of white and red and their softness is contained within the hard glitter of thick glassware.

Orexart
What: Dessert by Stephen Allwood
Where and when: 1/15 Putiki St, Arch Hill, to April 30
TJ says: Huge, colourful goblets of food painted with plenty of dash.

Big paintings, they are done with a flourish; no tidy, polite still-life here. They are painted with a swagger of brushwork that emphasises the highlights of the glass. There is something of the dashing manner of French painter and printmaker Fragonard in the 18th century.

The effect is theatrical. The desserts stand as if on a stage, seen most effectively in the can of preserved peaches observed from slightly below.

When the glassware is not given a place to stand, as in the two paintings of fruit salad, the paintings run out of the bottom of the picture.

The sense of joy in the act of painting removes the work from the advertising it somewhat resembles. The artist hints he has in mind vanitas paintings that emphasise the transience of life but the fulsome visions of these desserts are full of a delicious, immediate presence.

They cannot carry a weight of metaphorical significance.

MARY MCINTYRE is showing 16 paintings, one of which dates back nearly 40 years. It shows a self-portrait full of confidence against a finely painted landscape of hills. However, there is a twist. Alongside, her son is mockingly wearing a mask of an ageing woman. The present is matched with the past.

Whitespace Gallery
What: Then and Now by Mary McIntyre
Where and when: Whitespace Gallery, 12 Crummer Rd, Ponsonby, to April 3
TJ says: Consideration of past and present in intense images of personal and public situations.

The present is certainly the material for the rest of the much smaller works. The artist's house looks out over what was an attractive part of Newmarket. These intense little paintings capture the nature of the area and the intrusion of invaders. Planes emitting pollution, cranes and, above all, the intrusive drones of surveyors and land agents hover in the air like a stinging insect.

The painter's skill and observation catch a mood with the same shrewd insight as ever.

- NZ Herald

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