The Auckland Art Gallery is showing a small exhibition of lithographs by Honore Daumier that acts as a lively adjunct to the current Auckland Festival of Photography. Lithography and photography were born almost together in the 19th century and both processes still support the immense numbers of images that illustrate our newspapers and magazines today.
The (then) new process of lithography involved drawing on a porous stone with a greasy crayon then wetting the stone so it would hold oily printing ink which elsewhere would be rejected by the water.
Then limitless images of the artists' work could be printed from the stone.
The process allowed graphic caricature and political comment to be regularly published in newspapers.
France's greatest of the commentators was Honore Daumier (1808-1879) an ardent republican, who made more than 4000 images as well as painting and sculpture despite, at one point, being jailed for six months for his liberal opinions.
The gallery has mounted from its collection a selection of his works that range through politics, social life and the theatre. Brilliantly drawn and filled with shrewd observation of human nature, they illuminate character in life in a variety of themes that recur in Auckland's current photography festival.
Daumier brilliantly pillories an aristocrat stuffed with gold or a con man, Robert Macaire, and his dubious schemes, alongside entertaining images of ordinary people enjoying walks in the countryside or being kept awake by their baby. He shows the tyranny of landlords at a time of housing shortage.
More seriously, he draws solemn memorials to the dead of the Commune brutally suppressed by the military in 1871; more humorously, always the enemy of pretention, he caricatures the outworn conventions of classical theatre. It makes a fascinating exhibition.
DAUMIER'S THEMES return in a triple show of photography at the Gus Fisher Gallery. Breaking of conventions are part of Teaching a Butterfly to Swim, photography by John Savage of dancers from Douglas Wright's dance theatre. His work catches the way the manners of classical ballet give way to astonishing gymnastic poses and leaps as emotionally charged as any conventional dance.
Daumier's sympathetic recording of every-day life is paralleled by Sait Akkirman's delightful series, Ferreting on Ponsonby Road, where life, fashion and people on that celebrated street are captured in pictures that include a woman taking her ferret for a walk as well as the lively variety of shops.
It would be pushing the idea to suggest links between Daumier and Celebrating Wood, a series of black and white photographs of wooden structures in New Zealand taken last century by Laurence Aberhart except that his process is nowadays almost as archaic as stone lithography. Yet it is powerfully evocative of the mana of wooden structures rich with a sense of the past. The black and white focuses the mind where colour might diffuse the sensation and the remembrance of things past. Aberhart's work is a national treasure.
An immense green photograph with one spot of red and two of blue completes the show. Rimu Portrait by Steven Pearce is a remarkable 4m tall and blended from 25 images.
ARTSPACE DEVOTES itself to work that engages with the world at large as only a public gallery can do. Daumier's passionate advocacy of republican politics against the face of oppression is recalled by the videos and images in Beachhead's Peace of Mind showing at present.
The main room features tall, symbolic banners by Matthew Galloway questioning the politics of New Zealand importing fertiliser from a politically fraught source in the Sahara. This is opposite a video by Turkish artist Savas Boyraz showing a woman sitting on a rock by the East River in New York and explaining the loss of her "significant other", killed as a guerrilla fighter.
Nearby a multi-channelled installation by Khaled Sasabi, based in Sydney, uses a "whirling dervish" to place movement in the service of God as a continual force against war and catastrophe. Superman bows down to his god in a series of posters by Sener Ozmen who also has video of himself revealing a poem about peace in Kurdish to a startlingly white dove.
In another work, by Bouchra Khalili, two young people recite maxims of Che Guevara in different dialects of Arabic. There are subtitles but these do not help to decide whether the tone is serious or ironic.
Irony is certainly part of the effect in the work of Haron Farocki. In Their Newspapers he shows young Germans in the 1980s seriously debating every word in the text of a press release that ends up as a paper dart thrown out a window.
More telling is his brilliant splicing together of TV footage to make a narrative of the revolution in Romania in 1989. It is all there: the crowds, the resignation of the dictator, the crowded committee rooms where the new constitution is being worked out, and it culminates with the dead bodies of the executed dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, and his wife.
It is the summation of the heart of a revolution, any revolution.
Auckland Art Gallery
What: Mirror to the World, lithographs by Honore Daumier
Where and when: Auckland Art Gallery, Kitchener St, to July 24
TJ says: Drawings by Daumier illuminate the life - high and low - and the politics of 19th century France using the then new medium of lithography.
What: Beachhead's Peace of Mind
Where and when: Artspace, Level 1/300 Karangahape Rd, to June 25
TJ says: Artspace reaches out to the world at large for videos of people connected with a struggle for peace now and in the past, combining a lot of talk with telling images including memorable footage, brilliantly edited, of the revolution in Romania.
A Laurence Aberhart photograph, Oramahoe, Northland.
Gus Fisher Gallery
What: Celebrating Wood by Laurence Aberhart; Teaching a Butterfly to Swim by John Savage; Ferreting on Ponsonby Road by Sait Akkirman
Where and when: The Gus Fisher Gallery, 74 Shortland St, to July 2
TJ says: Three very different approaches to photography, all fascinating in their way - historical, dramatic and social - as part of the Auckland Festival of Photography.