The University of Auckland's Gus Fisher Gallery and Artspace are showing exhibitions that would not fit comfortably in dealer galleries.
At Gus Fisher Gallery is Therapies, photographs by Pukekohe-born Christine Webster, now living in Britain. Her exhibitions are rare but always impressive visually and philosophically. For more than 35 years she has examined the way the female body is considered. Often her work has caused shock because she has featured the bodies of older women, doing them honour with images that are always frank and sometimes majestic.
Therapies features two women protagonists and the work implies a complex situation based on exercise. The women are at the crisis of middle age. The sense of the stress of change is emphasised by landscape photos that accompany the images of the women. The landscapes are bleak, bare and often wintry. These reinforce a mood.
Attention is drawn to the bodies of the women half-revealed by robes or the nature of the pose, usually stretching or exercising. Their faces are concealed by long hair or are turned away from the viewer. They are seen against dark backgrounds, mostly interiors, and in rich colour.
They are very beautiful. Details such as a hint of flabby upper arms are not denied, nor are intimate gestures against ageing such as a bright rose tattooed on a buttock. Hands are decorated with rings and arms with bracelets. There are other brilliant details such as when light vividly catches the edge of a red robe.
Yet the poses, in a bath or stretched on a bare mattress, suggest isolation and unease even as they evoke a spa or therapeutic institution. One character is shown turned away and contemplating a wide horizon. She has a tattoo but it is a faded and blurred heart transfixed by a broken arrow.
The final sequence is a semi-naked woman on a swing made of a single rope. The body is still athletic and seen in completely unconventional poses but linked to the preoccupation of working out in a gym to renew or retain something lost to time. The exhibition is crowned with a video that uses images from the show accompanied by lute music and matches them with shots of a restless sea always changing but always the same. It adds a special energy to an already singularly powerful show.
Also at Gus Fisher is an intriguing show of works by women artists from the university collection.
Also, the smaller gallery houses watercolours by Georgie Hill, who commands a mysterious technique that combines pale, cloudy waves with linear elements, describing furniture in a way that is truly fascinating.
At Artspace the principal gallery is occupied with installation work by James Beckett called Dowsing Schools: Preliminary Findings and Corresponding Survey Kit. Dowsing is the ritual of finding what is hidden. A case of books and divining rods is on show. Recordings play of two prominent British dowsers speaking of their methods and findings. One believes the equipment picks up spiritual emanations as well as water or oil.
Alongside this are marking flags and highly polished digging tools and the simplicity of a plane table rather than a modern laser theodolite.
Neat patterns of paving suggest an earth surface rather than the gallery floor. In all it captures the heart of the matter clinically and references as much a museum as it does art.
Another installation, by g. bridle, occupies the two back galleries. It is composed in two pieces. One is a panel painted with a convincing hole. The other, far away around the bend in the second gallery, is a large bee painted on a blue wall. It is an escape story. The work is described as a visual haiku. It may be as terse as a little poem but lacks the compression that makes a haiku work.
The work at the dealer gallery Two Rooms is considerably less esoteric. Australian Noel McKenna is a visiting artist in residence who spent a good deal of his time going on walks and bike rides around Auckland. On his travels he records things that catch his eye with his own combination of naivete and ruggedness.
Spread across one wall is a visual diary of 15 days of his stay. He discusses the places and people he meets, things he saw, and the different beers he tries.
The lively pages are filled with quick drawings that later might be the starting point for paintings.
The paintings give the title to the show, A Walk from One Tree Hill to Half Moon Bay. They have an open-eyed, innocent charm. Particularly delightful are an archer under a tree on One Tree Hill and the curious toilet block, all stone and bars, that looks like a jail, also in Cornwall Park.
At the galleries
What: Therapies by Christine Webster; Feint: watercolours by Georgie Hill; Voicing the Visible: feminist art from the University of Auckland collection
Where and when: Gus Fisher Gallery, 74 Shortland St, to June 3
TJ says: The paintings by women artists from the university's collection are varied and often striking and the work by Georgie Hill shows extraordinary technique but it is the insight and mood of the photographs by Christine Webster that really capture the attention.
What: Dowsing Schools by James Beckett; The Retreat by g. bridle
Where and when: Artspace, 300 Karangahape Rd, to June 28
TJ says: An elaborate installation illustrates the nature of the rituals of divining what is under the earth by ancient methods in a modern world. Two other rooms are occupied by enigmatic paintings by an admired young artist.
What: A Walk from One Tree Hill to Half Moon Bay by Noel McKenna
Where and when: Two Rooms, 16 Putiki St, Newton to May 31
TJ says: A diary of 15 days of walking in Auckland by a visiting artist in residence is the raw material for a group of lively paintings.