By T.J. McNAMARA
Art today uses a huge variety of means of expression, yet artists still find much to say within the confines of a conventional rectangle.
The rarefied exhibition called There's Joy in Repetition, at the Jensen Gallery in Upper Queen St until June 26, has some extreme work but the rectangles triumph.
The extremes are represented by Karin Sander, whose work is simply to polish on a section of the gallery wall to make it slightly different from the rest of the expanse, and by Carl Andre, whose piece is 11 small cubes of copper in a line on the floor. There is extreme in rectangles, too. Gunter Umberg is represented by one of his profoundly deep black paintings.
Amid all these international artists, one wall is dominated by an exceptionally large work by New Zealander Stephen Bambury that more than holds its place in this exalted company. Bambury is an uneven artist, but this long stretch of rectangles called Chinese Whispers is a remarkably fine work.
Whispers is appropriate because this is not a work that shouts at you. It works entirely in pale shades of cream yellow. The thought is passed quietly along from panel to panel and subtly modified each time, but always related to the basic form.
Each panel consists of a delicately textured cross defined by a rectangle in each corner of the panel. The corners are more translucent than the cross. Where the panels meet, the corners combine to make opposing elements that give a potent upward and downward thrust.
At more than 7m long it is an ambitious work but one that is very successful in its minimalist way.
At Parnell's Bath St Gallery until May 29, Peter Panyoczki, an international artist who is a naturalised New Zealander, always uses the rectangular format, but within the four sides of his unframed canvases he creates effects that make each canvas an individual, autonomous event. The principal difference between each of these big, confident paintings is in texture and colour.
Panyoczki's paintings all have remarkable surfaces. A big red piece has great lumps on the surface that also mould into aeroplanes, but not entirely convincingly. On the other hand, textured geometric shapes including bars of gold are much more effective. In some paintings the bars are vertical and dark with turbulent, hot colour behind them.
The impressive works that rely on simple geometry are textured by a variety of means. Several works are called Bright Sphere and one of them finds its texture from a mesh applied to the surface. Behind the mesh, flickering colour gives considerable tension and movement, and the big circle of the sphere almost fills the rectangular format.
There is another work with the same title which is the outstanding painting in the show. The rectangle this time is horizontal and the circle does not fill the frame. There is also a horizontal bar across the centre. Here the texture is not regular, but swept upward in complex arcs in the upper part of the painting and downwards in the lower.
It would be easy to think of this as spindrift across the moon, but it also works at deeper levels: it is the emergence of a concept, an illumination, a circumscribed intellectual thought through the chaos of life and emotion.
The rectangle that can encompass such a grand metaphor can also, when long, narrow and panoramic, become a suitable vehicle for Bob Kerr's evocations of New Zealand landscapes which are at the McPherson Gallery until May 22.
Painted in a spirited manner of pushing the paint around on a hard surface, they deftly convey the feeling of scenes along river and shore unadorned except by toetoe.
Because of the nature of the medium, photographs are usually rectangular. What is fascinating about the exhibition by Yvonne Todd at the Ivan Anthony Gallery until May 29 is the variety of subject, mood and insight within the confines of the frame.
It is this variety that makes this show a big advance on the considerable achievement of her previous shows. It even extends to variety in size. There are potent little images 12cm square and others a metre or more tall.
Todd's images have always hovered on the edge of banal conventionality, with their deeper, often penetrating insights conveyed by oblique hints and subtle ironies. They were generally in series.
In this fascinating exhibition, every photograph has a different mood, a different spin, a different edge. Methylated Puddle is a purple, oily pool in idyllic surroundings. Roba is a striking woman in long dress and gloves.
The darkness of her dress contrasts with the whiteness of her face and neckline. The spin comes from the petrol can at her feet. Rasputa is a small, darkly sinister study of a face. The edginess of this image comes both from the printing process and the bared teeth.
Not all the photographs are people. One shows a line of cypress trees on an otherwise bare hill. Each tree is bound tightly to a stake and their tapering shapes suggest the hooded victims of the Inquisition.
The fertile ambiguity in all these images is at its most potent in Atlantis, where a young girl, quite spectacularly innocent-looking, is sitting pregnant on a wooden chair in a short, unfashionable skirt and old-lady shoes. She stares accusingly at the viewer, half-proud, half-shamed.
In this exhibition, Todd triumphantly explores new territory, extending a realm of insight and response that she had already made her own.
By T.J. McNAMARA