Friday 13 July 2012


The highlight of a trip to the Auckland Art Gallery at the beginning of the week (aside from a scintillating interpretation of the first room of the contemporary collection hang by my visiting-buddy) was getting to see for the first time since 2005 a group of Allen Maddox's paintings.

Maddox's works are up as part of 'Made Active', the latest exhibition drawing on the Chartwell Collection. By and large, the exhibition - featuring works by Alicia Frankovich, Nick Austin and Daniel Malone - was causing some seriously puzzled and incredulous visitor expressions. I was rather taken by the ruined beauty and delicacy of the Stephen Birch installation, but it was the Maddoxes that really stood out for me, perhaps precisely because they didn't fit smoothly with all the other pieces brought together on the general theme of 'artworks that activate everyday materials'.

It's impossible for me to look at a work like Maddox's Untitled Painting and not think of Julian Dashper's extraordinary velvet paintings, like my adored Purple Rain at Glorit - and to not be a little stunned that the two were painted only five years apart. (This is what happens when you missed the 1980s. You're surprised by things that make other people go duh.) 

Of course, you're taught to see Maddox's abstract expressionism as sincere (and substance-fuelled) and Dashper's as ironic (was Julian ever more sincere than when he was being ironic?). And indeed, standing there in the gallery, one of Julian's immortal quotes popped into mind ...

they were all made by holding the tube and squeezing it. So I never touched or embraced the painting. I could have made them wearing three piece suits. They were like lies in terms of artistic expression or angst.

But now I badly want to bring some of these works together - later Maddox and Fomison, perhaps,  with earlier Reynolds and Dashper - and just see what happens.

After the visit, I talked about how I feel the lack of small, swift shows that let us revisit our recent art historical past. I want to see more than the odd Don Driver or Allen Maddox in a collection hang. I don't want to wait for a MA student to write a thesis that slowly leads to a show. I just want eight or ten paintings and a few prep drawings hung well in a big enough space for a month so I can spend some time with them. I want to stage visual experiments rather than textual ones - ask questions with art and answer them with my eyes.

(I've made a set of all the Maddoxes available on DigitalNZ - contributions from Te Papa and Auckland Art Gallery only. This is a much larger selection of Dashper's work, also largely from Te Papa and the AAG. And dear Auckland Art Gallery. It would make me so happy if you would start feeding large thumbnails through to DigitalNZ. Consider it the only thing I am asking for this year.) (UPDATE: Hooray for people who listen and respond - see the comment from the AAG's online coordinator below. Next on my list: Christchurch Art Gallery. Luscious big images, folks. It's all I ask for.)

 llen Maddox, Untitled painting, 1980. Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 1985. 
Julian Dashper, Purple Rain at Glorit, 1986. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, purchased 1986 with Ellen Eames Collection funds.


Amy Cooper said...

Hi Courtney, I'm the online coordinator for Auckland Art Gallery. I have to admit I was exceedingly embarrassed when I saw your earlier blog on Digital NZ sets this week as I hadn't even realised the thumbnail views are all we're exporting. So: message very much received. The person I need to talk to about this is on leave but I'm putting the wheels in motion. Hope to be able to report progress soon... thank you for the heads up!

Courtney Johnston said...

Hi Amy

You have no idea how happy this makes me. Hooray! And good luck for your conversation. It really would make all the difference to how the AAG's works are seen and enjoyed and shared and us.


Paul Rowe said...

Historically Matapihi only included thumbnail images, so many of the older contributors to DigitalNZ have data feeds unchanged since this time.

Auckland Art Gallery and Christchurch Art Gallery are both in this category. Both export data out of Vernon CMS. It's a simple change for the data feed to point to a larger web image instead, so it really becomes an organisation decision on whether they want to contribute larger images to Digital.

I suspect many NZ organisations aren't aware that this is something they should be considering. Perhaps it needs a push from DigitalNZ to get contributors thinking about this?

We (Vernon Systems) are happy to help any clients who want to make this switch. I'd also love to see larger images in DigitalNZ. It's especially nice to see the large images within the new DigitalNZ Sets feature.