Auckland has an art history well worth academic study. One function of the Gus Fisher Gallery, which is part of the University of Auckland, is to showcase the works associated with the written studies.
Hence, they are showing work linked to a thesis written by Joanna Trezise which traces the exhibitions and influence of the New Vision Gallery, which opened in His Majesty's Arcade in March 1965.
The public's gain is a compellingly nostalgic show of some of the works that were part of the tremendous impetus the gallery, founded by Dutch immigrants Kees and Tina Hos, gave to Auckland's art scene.
It is fascinating to see again a sample of the best work of Rudy Gopas. His thickly textured yet visionary Nebula is set alongside the crackling expressionist fireplace as symbol of life by his short-lived pupil Philip Clairmont. As well as exceptional paintings by Gordon Walters and Milan Mrkusich, a stunning three-movement symphony in blue by Louise Henderson is the best thing she ever did. Philip Trusttum's immaculate sense of colour is displayed in a 1970 work, though it is timid in comparison with the size and attack of his subsequent efforts.
The New Vision Gallery, imbued with a pre-war Bauhaus philosophy, emphasised the unity of art and design. The pottery movement was nurtured there, as was printmaking. There are excellent examples of ceramics by Len Castle and Patricia Perrin alongside prints by Barry Cleavin.
The paintings evoke the shock that their beginnings at New Vision created. Minimal abstractions such as Don Driver's painted relief seem unremarkable now because so many have followed where he led. The show is a tribute to the place of an important dealer gallery in the development of art in Auckland.
Dealer galleries continue to flourish. At Oedipus Rex, Prakash Patel brings an ethnic flavour to his work. The paintings are in two styles. The most lively are colourful and intricate works that reflect Indian fabrics. Constellations of shapes made by tiny, star-like dots weave among coloured gaseous shapes in vivid colour which includes silver and gold. All this dance of colour is caught in the swirl of lively rhythms that have great appeal. The only limitation is that a group of works like the series called Carnival appear to be cut off by the yard.
The shapes are endlessly inventive and recall the rhythmic dance of paintings by Jackson Pollock, though they are less spontaneous, and they don't turn in on themselves at the edges to create the coherence of an individual work. This edgelessness is also apparent in the second group of paintings which are more geometrically arranged.
Combinations of lights are arranged in regular patterns to convey the lights of city buildings, but only in Moonshine River, distinguished by delicate touches of blue, is there a sense of flow that makes the lack of framing unimportant.
The sculptures of Ruth Allen at Milford Galleries certainly turn in on themselves and give a sense of coherence even as they loop and twine. The sculptures are made of rectangular strands of coloured glass with bands of contrasting colour within them. The composition is open and suggests a colony arrangement of organisms. The medium is artificial yet their movements suggest natural growth patterns. The lighter, warmer colours exploit the translucency of glass to good effect. This is a show where any work seen in isolation would be impressive but as an exhibition can be repetitious.
Dealer galleries also provide a forum for young artists to come before the public. Artis Gallery in Parnell is showing the work of four young artists, Eileen Leung, Ben McManus, Fifi Cheung and Emma Fitts. There is something of an art school exercise about the work of Manus when he hangs mesh from the ceiling and associates it with a light in a pile of sand, or when Fitts folds canvas into soft monochrome shapes. Yet the delicate, curiously shaped paintings of Leung are lyrical and atmospheric when they reference a city or flutter like an excited bird in the sweet work called I'm Going to the Moon.
Of course, there is always room among the galleries for so-called realistic work. The paintings by Neil Driver at SOCA Gallery are the last in a series of four exhibitions called the Winter Realist Season.
These paintings certainly have realist elements but are carefully constructed to create a special mood associated with timber houses, wide moulded window frames, high skirting, wainscoting, balustrades and bare timber floors. The depiction of such old houses has become a special trope for some New Zealand artists, especially when, as here, the view through the windows shows rolling hills of Central Otago or the seashore.
Driver does these interiors and the brightly lit landscapes through the windows very attractively but the touch that serves him well in showing the light on walls is more laboured when it is used for still life, jugs and fruit. Nevertheless, it continues a special and popular tradition. For gallery listings, see www.nzherald.co.nz/arts
THIS WEEK AT THE GALLERIES
What: New Vision 1965-76
Where and when: Gus Fisher Gallery, 74 Shortland St, to Aug 22
TJ says: Paintings illustrate a thesis on the New Vision Gallery and remind us where the confidence of our contemporary artists was first apparent.
What: Orient, by Prakash Patel
Where and when: Oedipus Rex Gallery, Khartoum Place, to Aug 9
TJ says: Densely woven starry patterns like fabric and geometrical arrangements of light.
What: Parallel Lives - Synergetic Series, by Ruth Allen
Where and when: Milford Galleries, 26 Kitchener St, to Aug 9
TJ says: Organic shapes and cellular structures made in hot glass cast strange shadows.
What: New Work, by Eileen Leung, Ben McManus, Fifi Cheung & Emma Fitts
Where and when: Artis Gallery, 280 Parnell Rd, to Aug 17
TJ says: Little conventional work but some that is lively and lyrical.
What: Solo Exhibition, by Neil Driver
Where and when: SOCA, 74 France St, Newton, to Aug 5
TJ says: Light in empty wooden houses with hills and shore beyond the windows - real but very moody.