By Choi Jeong Hwa
Anyone who has walked past the Auckland Art Gallery during the past couple of weeks will have noticed it is still swarming with builders - and a thrilling display of enormous flowers has sprung up in the glorious new three-storey, glass-fronted foyer. With the gallery's official opening still a couple of weeks away, Korean artist Choi Jeong Hwa's
can only be seen from the street for now - but what a view it makes.
Choi's exuberant blooms, made of plastic and fibreglass, breathe and nod, fold and unfold.
"Movement is an element that is always in my work, like life and death, night and day," says the 50-year-old Seoul-based artist.
Choi visited the light-filled foyer site four times to refine his plans for the installation. "I got the idea from this space. The first time, there was no ceiling." Today, the ceiling is vaulted kauri panelling, a beautiful art work in itself.
Choi, who graduated from Seoul's Hongik University in 1989, works across many disciplines, including public art, architecture, and graphic and industrial design. His work uses artificial materials to celebrate nature in urban settings where the natural world is receding and the titles of his installations reflect a playful, cool-kitsch joy -
Happiness, Happy Happy, Flower Tree, The Unbearable lightness of being
(in Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens last year),
Secret Beyond the Door
(at the 2005 Venice Biennale) and
Your Bright Future
(at Houston's Museum of Fine Art in 2009).
Upon graduating, "I realised that 'normal' people built and created things better than artists or professionals", Choi has said. "I decided against becoming an artist and decided instead to become an ordinary person who thinks like an artist."
is one of three new temporary works installed for the gallery's reopening on September 3; the AAG foyer will be its home for one year.
Auckland Art Gallery senior curator of New Zealand and Pacific Art Ron Brownson reckons Choi is "probably the most famous artist from Korea". Others have called him a pop star of the art world.
"He has done work all over the world and he has the experience to undertake such a challenging commission," says Brownson. "It works on the interior on three levels, it can be seen from the outside and through from the east, west and north, and it will operate on a 24/7 basis."
As part of his research, Brownson took Choi on an exploration of gardens and bush in the Auckland region. "He loves nature. He looked at our flora and he understood that the multi-coloured thing is what we wanted; a rainbow. It's the joy and spectacle of it - you feel good just being next to it and seeing it breathe."
I'm just like a pile of leaves
by Kate Newby
Upstairs, on level two's north-facing sculpture terrace, Auckland artist Kate Newby's installation is quiet and subtle, a "platform" of rough, muddy-red concrete nestled under the adjoining ancient oak tree whose leaves will flutter down on to it.
I'm just like a pile of leaves
, a title taken from a poem by American writer Frank O'Hara, reflects his concern with looking at small, mundane things we may walk past, unnoticing, each day.
Here, Newby, 32, has inserted small hand-crafted sticks and rocks into the concrete, swung an embedded yellow rope up into the oak tree, and built a masonry block wall at one end whose grids match the reflective office block windows over the road in Kitchener St.
"I might smear some lipstick or oil on the blocks," says Newby, a founder of the gallery Gambia Castle who studied at the Elam School of Fine Arts. She is currently in Rotterdam for an outdoor exhibition called
at Witte de Witte. "I want to interfere with the wall a little bit - I see the whole work as a bit of an interference. It's a busy space, surrounded by trees and buildings looking down and the 100-year-old oak. I'm observing the things around me, with a sense of displacement."
There is another element to
I'm just like a pile of leaves
, which will stay on the terrace for six months before being dismantled for another work by a young New Zealand artist. The terrace is abuzz with the din of "cicada" song - and just like the real ones, they fall silent as you approach. Another small, everyday thing we usually take no notice of at all.
Long Modified Bench
by Jeppe Hein
Around the corner from Newby's work, right next to the gallery's level two coffee bar, is the much longer sculpture terrace facing Albert Park where Danish artist Jeppe Hein has been installing one of his famous "modified social benches" during the past week.
This bench - the longest and highest Hein has created since he first started making the benches in 2000 - swoops along the terrace and around the corner, looping into the air like a mini-rollercoaster before plunging in and out of the gallery roof below (bits of the bench will appear in the roof of the international contemporary art gallery on level one).
Its contours fulfil its "social" agenda: as we sit chatting, we inch much closer than two strangers would normally find appropriate.
"At the moment, we are in a society where people have a problem communicating personally and with each other," says Hein, who is based in Berlin and Copenhagen. "But we are sitting quite close to each other, which is not so normal when you don't know each other. I am hoping that when people sit on this bench, they will smile a small smile and start a dialogue."
Hein, who refers to the gallery as a "museum", says the opportunity to visit the gallery and look out over the park from most of the public levels is more than unusual.
"I mean, a view like this is not normal for a museum. I think it is really beautiful. You will be able to see into the gallery from the park - before, it was closed at the back, it was quite a hardcore wall and a strange area of the park. Now it is nice and opened up - it is connecting."
Hein first "started a dialogue" about the bench three years ago with AAG contemporary art curator Natasha Conland. "We met in Copenhagen and I was supposed to travel here last year, then I got quite ill. But my right-hand man travelled here and the drawings of the museum were so perfect we could use that and get a really good idea and, of course, he took photos of the surroundings so we could work out exactly how I wanted it.
"This is my first really big loop and I have never gone so high before. It is quite crazy for me as well. I am coming from an extremely playful background as a child ... children will run around this bench, sliding up and down. This is a piece for all generations."
The bench is in the gallery for three years after which, says Hein, "the idea is that maybe it can go somewhere else in the city. We are working on that."
The three AAG commissions are supported by the Molly Morpeth Canaday Trust, the Chartwell Trust and the Edmiston Trust. The refurbished gallery opens at 11am on September 3.