Headlands: Thinking through New Zealand Art (Sydney: Museum of Contemporary Art, 1992).
This is our land, this is our home, like no other place
She is islands of beauty and a Pacific race
She is mountains, hills, and forests tall, and pounding surf
There’s no place like New Zealand on this Earth …
From the farmer, to the logger, every working man
Can see us as a people with a future plan
We’re National together, we know this country’s worth
There’s no place like New Zealand on this Earth …
We’re talking the future
Jobs for kids still at school, and kids not yet born
That’s what all this is about.
—National Party TV advertisement, 1981
One face of the modern is utopianism. From the beginning of colonisation, New Zealand was framed up as some kind of paradise, a natural wilderness where the last of England could have another crack at building the ideal society. New Zealand was to be a retirement home far from the hubbub, a peaceful suburb to the world’s metropolis. Art was implicated in the ad campaign. The New Zealand Company instructed artists like Charles Heaphy to paint a pretty picture. But New Zealand was hardly as accommodating as the pictures suggested. Expecting to find arable farmland, settlers discovered, to their dismay, cliffs and bushy gullies. It would take work to convert this wilderness into an Eden.
Building a nation demanded a massive mobilisation of people and things. By the twentieth century, the process was almost entirely centrally driven, with government setting the priorities. Always pleased to cast itself as an experiment in modern living, New Zealand has been one of the most self-consciously egalitarian and democratic countries (and, at times, also one of the most complacent and self-satisfied). In the early 1930s, the misery of the depression corrected the rumour that New Zealand was an ideal society. But in 1935, Michael Joseph Savage led the Labour Party to victory on social-welfare policies. Savage promised social security for all citizens from ‘the cradle to the grave’ and, overcoming the depression, endeared himself to posterity. New Zealand emerged again pleased with itself for being the most prosperous and just society in the world.
One of the important innovations of the Savage government was its state-housing scheme, designed to provide quality accommodation for all New Zealanders. Entire suburbs were constructed, with shopping, recreational, and educational facilities part of the deal. Houses were allocated on the basis of need and rentals set according to the income of the tenants rather than by the market. The most needy were assumed to be the families. ‘Like the family farm, the state house was, in its initial conception, an affirmation of the New Zealand moral vision … Rejecting city culture, it strove to create a family centred Garden of Eden for the city worker.’1
The old utopia had now been recast. The suburbs became ‘the half-gallon quarter-acre pavlova paradise!’2 Historian Erik Olssen: ‘The voting nation in 1949 had experienced at least one world war and a depression … For many women and men, marriage, a family, and a house and garden in the suburbs was the consummation of their dreams. Their children might later describe the suburban utopia that flourished in the 1950s as boring, but to a large number of New Zealanders such boredom was what they wanted. Life had given them more than their share of excitement.’3
But there was a downside to the modern dream. The social plan was prescriptive and paternalistic. The authorities knew best. In deciding what people needed they reified a particular social order based on the nuclear family. Discussing the Town Planning Bill of 1926, Prime Minister Harry Holland had already promised that suburbs would fashion ‘a new psychology’ in children. ‘When we actively enter upon town-planning not only do we make for materially improving men, women and children in a physical sense, but we also improve them in a moral sense.’4 The architects were also happy to tell people what they really needed. In the prospectus for their Demonstration House, the Architectural Centre made their priorities clear: ‘Soldiers live in barracks, bachelors in boarding houses, but families live in houses. A family will be influenced more by the house it lives in than will the bachelor by the boarding house. The design of a house, then, demands special care, as families are more important to a country than are bachelors, or even soldiers.’5
The state-housing scheme was one of the clearest moves to secure a homogeneous and stable society. New Zealand also resisted diversity through (anti-) immigration policies, and aggressively pursued the assimilation of Maori. Staunchly anti-elitist, it was a tough place to be an artist. Novelist Bill Pearson’s 1952 essay, ‘Fretful Sleepers: A Sketch of New Zealand Behaviour and Its Implications for the Artist’, offers a bleak diagnosis: ‘Somewhere at the back of the outlook of the New Zealander is a dream, a dream of security in equality. Everybody acts the same, receives the same amount of the worlds goods, everyone moves in the same direction. Everyone has simple tastes, explainable desires which can be fulfilled with proportionately simple effort. No one has any grievance and accidents don’t happen.’6
In 1965, the painter Michael Illingworth wrote: ‘I am building a facade for my own world, against the establishment facade, the facade of hypocritical suburbia.’7 Many of Illingworth’s paintings are ‘subdivided’, framed up into discrete sections, as if compartmentalising nature, suburb, and city; work and love. A repeated motif is a row of identical houses. The figures that occupy this world are interchangeable; generic males and females rendered in a primitivist style with bloated heads like hydrocephalics or aliens. Illingworth suggests an affinity between the suburb dweller and the primitive, presenting homo-burb not as modern but as neo-primitive. He claimed both heroism and pathos for his subjects. ‘The little faces in my paintings with no mouths and with hands waving signify two things; the feeling of a lost quality—what am I doing here?, where do I belong?—and the feeling of possibility, purity, an ideal that may become something but is certainly nothing at the moment.’8
Just around the corner Richard Killeen and Ian Scott were doing pop-realist paintings of suburban subjects in similarly hard-edged styles. Scott would later remark: ‘I happen to like the suburban landscape, with its neatness, bright colours, clean edges—an area of white weatherboards, a touch of red curtain to one side, a green hedge in front, a blue sky above.’9 Killeen’s people were dressed typically, in suits and frocks; surrounded by new furniture, posing before homes, reading the newspaper, promenading in the park. Ian Scott’s girlie paintings featured oblivious chicks, often scantily clad, cavorting in an immaculate and highly artificial version of nature—a landscaped landscape. There’s something sinister about Killeen’s and Scott’s works. Things are too clean for comfort. Everyone’s mouth fixed in a smile, like the Stepford wives.
The lonely rural huts in the paintings of Colin McCahon, Rita Angus, and Toss Woollaston meant ‘Man Alone’, a simple, solitary life lived close to nature.10 In the work of Illingworth, Neil Dawson, Derrick Cherrie, and Marie Shannon this hut is superseded by a suburban ‘dream’ house.
Neil Dawson’s fifteen House Alterations (1978) conceptualise the house in model form. Made from painted wood, wire, and mesh, they are diagrams or technical drawings resolved in three dimensions. Dawson scaled them to the width of his head, suggesting they were mental objects. The house connotes a social unit—the family—and evokes associations of order, belonging, possession. Dawson offers the house dispassionately, but in order to highlight its metaphorical potential. Such readings are prompted by the titles, which are open to religious, psychological, and political associations, as well as referring to the particular conceptual operation at work: Magnification, Mass, Illumination, Enlargement, Shadow, Reflection, Enclosure.
Marie Shannon also plays house. Her recent photographs feature pipe-cleaner couples in cute and shrunken domestic tableaux. She offers the suburban idyll so relentlessly it seems suspicious. Disingenuous, her set-ups recall the games of childhood. Children manipulate toys, anticipating future dealings with the real world. They are determined in this process. Discovering themselves in make-believe they learn model behaviour, become Barbie and Ken. Shannon’s scenarios are all about control; socialisation, propriety, stress management. Shannon’s The House at Night (1991) is an ideal image, a model home, lifted straight from the pattern book. The house is the purchase of a lifetime. Owning your own place, you’d want it solid and firm. Shannon’s shoddy construction of corrugated card and bits of Con-Tact paper, however, is cruddy. The suburban dwelling is supposed to be part of a social fabric, a community, but Shannon’s house has no neighbours, is lost in darkness. Settled no place, it is literally a utopia.
The Modernism that came into New Zealand had to come a long way to get here. It is only natural, given the way it was packaged, that it got damaged along the way. Whatever, ours was one with some mileage on the clock even before we got to take it for a spin.
What constitutes modernism, or modernity, in New Zealand art? The question is complex. How you answer depends, among other things, on whether you see modernism as a style-recipe produced overseas by master chefs for the local cooks to follow, or as a more deep-seated urge that can develop distinctive forms in different contexts.
Far from the centres of world art, New Zealand has always lacked significant examples of international art. We have no paintings in our public collections by the central figures of early modernism—Picasso, Braque, and Matisse. Exposure to modern art has been partial and sporadic. Having had the opportunity to see modern works in the flesh here only on rare occasions, the locals have had to come to grips with modern art largely through reproduction. Even when artists set out to travel to see the real thing, their infection found it difficult to survive here, let alone spread. Returned prisoner-of-war Austen Deans wrote, ‘None of the tricks I’d learnt overseas, which had helped me to see things and people in Europe, seemed to apply to painting in New Zealand.’ In such isolation, our artists have always enjoyed a deeply confused understanding of modernism in art. Early attempts by John Weeks and Louise Henderson to develop modern styles are easily written off as mis-takes—the failure of provincials to be up with the play, signs of backwardness. Indeed, many works from the 1950s don’t seem motivated by any particular modernist desire, so much as the desire to be modern—a clear proof that modernity is elsewhere.
But isolation was not all bad. In the work of Colin McCahon, for instance, confused borrowing clearly turns into creative and wilful mis-reading. The distance that many of our artists suffered from, McCahon enjoyed. He exemplifies the modernist-nihilist who rejects the values of others, building his practice upon those values he chooses for himself, always grounding his work back in his own history. And he does this in a way that is essentially provincial.
McCahon got hooked on what he saw as ‘cubism’ as a youngster, not through direct exposure but via illustrations and ‘translations’: ‘… by this time the Cubists’ discoveries had become part of our environment. Lampshades, curtains, linoleums, decorations in cast plaster: both the interiors and the exteriors of homes and commercial buildings were influenced inevitably by this new magic. But to see it all as it was in the beginning, that was a revelation. It was a dull, uninteresting afternoon. We were looking through copies of the Illustrated London News. The Cubists were being exhibited in London, were news, and so were illustrated. I at once became a Cubist, a staunch supporter and sympathiser, one who could read the Cubists in their own language and not only in the watered-down translations provided by architects, designers and advertising agencies. I was amazed when others could not share this bright new vision of reality. I began to investigate Cubism, too enthusiastically joining the band of translators myself.’12
This experience was backed up by several lessons in the studio of the Australian ‘cubist’ Mary Cockbum-Mercer in 1951. McCahon met Cockurn-Mercer by accident on a three-week trip to Melbourne. She was a minor Melbourne artist who had been in Paris during the heyday of early modernism and had partied with the cubists. When McCahon met her she was an elderly woman with a walking stick and a crutch—a broken leg still in the process of healing. These were typical of modernism’s rickety origins in New Zealand.13
McCahon’s cubist works of the early 1950s are novel. In On Building Bridges (1952), a landscape rendered in loosely cubist-derived style is set behind an incomplete bridge painted in a more realistic style. Now, instead of jutting out through the picture plane, the cubist forms are pressed back to suggest great distance. It’s all wrong in terms of how the textbooks say a cubist painting is supposed to work. And yet, instead of a mistake, it has been read as an elaborate and knowing commentary on the nature of cubism in relation to McCahon’s situation in New Zealand.14 McCahon was taking what he wanted, having his way with cubism. He was being ‘a translator’. Such irreverent use of sources continues throughout his work.
McCahon was deprived of easy, sustained access to modern art, but he was not uninformed. Working at the Auckland City Art Gallery from 1953 until 1964, first as cleaner, finally as keeper and assistant director, he had access to its library and collection. His job also look him to the US in 1958 to observe the activity of art galleries. This trip was to prove decisive in the development of his work. However, his work remained fundamentally provincial in its direction and nature (something he may have recognised by not travelling again). McCahon made use of whatever devices or inventions he could lay his hands on, often adapting the wrong tool for the job in the kiwi tradition of do-it-yourself.15 He continually reinvented the wheel, but often put it on top of the cart. With few artists in New Zealand practicing radical styles for him to position himself against, and few others of note to tell him what he could and couldn’t do, McCahon was free to try to work it all out for himself, to make it up as he went along, building on his mistakes, grounding his explorations not in a broader context but back in his own work. As Wystan Curnow puts it: ‘Having invented painting in New Zealand, he could now work in a tradition of his own making.’16
The result is an eccentric, self-referential, formally and thematically eclectic body of work. McCahon’s oeuvre includes figurative works, landscapes, abstracts, text and number paintings, and various combinations and conflations of the above. On the one hand, he mythologises the ’empty’ land as a way of spiritually colonising it; on the other, he embraces Maori language, forms, and land struggles. Some works show McCahon in love with Catholic symbolism, others a Calvinist insistence on the uncorrupted Word. Here and there, McCahon’s apocalyptic fervour gives way to greenie politics, an anti-nuclear stance. McCahon conflates the high and the low. Modernism, nationalism, religion, comic books, advertising, cubism, Mondrian, abstract expressionism, vernacular roadside signage, Japanese scroll painting, Moby Dick, and more: all this contra-diction blends and clashes in McCahon’s oeuvre. Consequently, we recognise in McCahon all moments: premodern, modern, postmodern.
By the 1970s, McCahon was our most noted living artist. His landscape-based work was central to the dominant nationalist argument, and yet, ironically, it was also very international in its sources. Critic Petar Vuletic was highly critical of nationalism. He demanded that New Zealand art stop navel-gazing and look off-shore. He addressed the hegemony of the nationalist argument, and rebuked it for obscuring the important modern/abstract work being produced in New Zealand by the likes of Milan Mrkusich and Gordon Walters. For Vuletic, national identity was nothing to write home about, a low point, a mark of the culture’s immaturity and xenophobia—a refusal to move with the times. And yet this appeal to the international-as-modern was blind to the equally context-specific and nationalistic nature of the modernism that had emerged from New York.17 In a sense, in New Zealand, nationalism took the place of modernism. It provided the teleology, the master narrative, for local art history, just as modernism had (and does) in the Museum of Modern Art. In a sense, nationalism was our modernism.
By the 1980s nationalism was no longer a hot issue for the art culture (although in various forms it still engages journalists, film-makers, ad agencies and politicians). Having reigned for a time, it had worked itself out of a job. While modernism had become obsolete in the United States, the task of writing ‘modernists’ like Walters into the limelight of New Zealand art history had become a priority. Simultaneously postmodern ideas were having some influence on the development of contemporary art and criticism. The promotion of earlier modernists did not find itself at odds with the new cargo cult. In New Zealand, modernism was not an edifice to be smashed but a margin. The edifice was nationalism. Consequently postmodernism was seldom addressed as a critique of local modernism, but was usually conflated with modernism as ‘internationalism’—a critique of nationalism. Such local conditions fostered a perverse coincidence: increasing piety toward Walters as the elder statesman of local modernism has fed on, and, fed in turn, the rise of the ‘postmodern’ cynic Julian Dashper.18
Julian Dashper’s abstractions fetishise classic modernist devices such as collage, cubist fracturing and multiple viewpoints, and constructivist circles. His arrangements often seem gratuitous, unmotivated. Rather than modern paintings they look like someone’s idea of modern painting. Mock modern, they recall the kind of ‘modern’ art available in wallpaper shops—’translations’ McCahon might have said. Like McCahon, Dashper mixes high and low. In his four Murals for a Contemporary House (1988) for instance, chunky abstracts are hung on tacky room-divides upholstered with a dated lurid popular fabric.’19 These works can be read both as a satire on the ambitions of modern art, making out that it is little more than mindless decoration for the self-styled ‘contemporary house’ and as the apotheosis of the derided low culture represented by the divides, now mixing it with high art—an acknowledgement of kinship. It is not possible to decide between these possibilities, to work out where the artist is coming from. This confusion is repeated throughout Dashper’s works where, with a straight face, he continues to celebrate the elite alongside the tawdry, the necessary through the contingent, the significant with the trivial.
This conflation is never so pointed as when Dashper tries to insinuate himself into the canon of New Zealand art by continually referring to its key players, notably Colin McCahon, Gordon Walters, and Rita Angus. He makes oblique references to their works and the legends that surround them, never referring to central issues in their practice but always to the most obscure or trivial feature. Dashper’s homages are never flattering, because it is not the other artist’s project or achievement that is celebrated, only the contingent detail. For instance, the inclusion of masking tape in Dashper’s The Grey in Grey Lynn (1989) can only be a reference to McCahon’s existential dilemma over the use of masking tape.20 But Dashper leaves on what McCahon took off. He gets off on a technicality.21
Dashper investigates the ideological support system for his work, the machinations of the artworld. He draws attention to the way art is framed, physically and metaphorically—historicised, pedigrised, legitimised. His paintings and drawings are often merely a pretence, alibis to explore the supposed marginalia of frames, labels, catalogues, and business cards, the rhetoric of dealing, and the semiology of installation. Dashper’s references prove irresistible to critics because they are always simply references; they do not advance any argument about what they refer to. Dashper leaves that to the professionals. Consequently the works attract all manner of contradictory projections, stitching Dashper into a canon he might otherwise appear to be unravelling.22 Take the Murals for a Contemporary House for instance. Christina Barton’s inclusion of Mural 4 in her After McCahon exhibition (1989) recommended its kinship with McCahon’s French Bay (1952). Francis Pound attempted to wrest the reference away from McCahon in a review of the show, linking the Murals instead with Walters’s gouaches of the 1950s. Pound later fortified this position when he claimed Dashper’s Murals legitimised Walters through a process of ‘canonisation from below’.23 Pound neglected to mention that it was through his very article that the canonisation occurred.
Michael Parekowhai has also toyed with the canon of local art history. In The Indefinite Article (1990), ‘I AM HE’ is spelt out in monstrous freestanding 3-D letters after the cubist manner of McCahon’s prophetic painting I Am (1954). The phrase ‘I am’, and variants upon it, appear throughout McCahon’s work. It is the name and definition of God, who confides to Moses at the burning bush, ‘I AM WHO I AM’ (Exodus 3:14). This statement advances God’s identity as the primary and necessary identity, the sure thing on which all things depend. But McCahon plays on the slippage in meaning between God and the self, God and his self, by playing on the shifty nature of the first person pronoun the fact its reference moves to whoever is speaking or thinking it at the time. McCahon’s works confuse the identities of the artist and the Creator to the point that McCahon could be accused of blowing his own trumpet.24
Like many of McCahon’s works, The Indefinite Article is open to specific and contradictory readings. They result from who is identified as ‘I’—God, McCahon, or Parekowhai—and whether the word ‘he’ is read as English or Maori. In Maori, ‘he’ means ‘wrong’; it is also the indefinite article. ‘I AM HE’ is not just ‘I am the one’ (as God would have it) but also ‘I am a one’ (or ‘some of one’) and ‘I am wrong’. If ‘he’ is wrong, God could be wrong (He might not be The One). McCahon’s cubism is certainly wrong, not the genuine article. In the ‘ideal’ society, Maori have found themselves continually ‘in the wrong’, so Parekowhai is also wrong. With its mock grandeur, this work might be a satire on McCahon’s cumbersome ego, or God’s for that matter. Then again, it could be a claim of supremacy on Parekowhai’s part. It might also refer to Parekowhai’s Maori identity insofar as Maori society is anti-individualistic, holding personal identity to be contingent upon tribal identity. Not being the one, but some of one.
‘I AM HE’ is an anagram of Parekowhai’s Christian name. The two missing letters—‘C’ and ‘U’—are the only ones in that name not present in the Maori alphabet. In The Indefinite Article, Parekowhai’s identity, his Maori identity, is subtly and simultaneously both asserted and displaced, linked with and distinguished from that of the great McCahon. Parekowhai makes us reconsider what wrongness is, what it is to have wrongness as one’s very identity—something New Zealand artists in the past have been afraid to admit to.
Dashper and Parekowhai knowingly build on the local tradition of wonky modernism. That tradition is not rejected or corrected in their work, but rather addressed as something of importance and insight.
In the 1950s, there were more products to buy and more money to buy them with. People had to have the gadgets they saw in American magazines—mix masters and pop-up toasters. The brave new kitchens were being decked out with brave new appliances. Shopping was invented as a leisure activity. The push-button kitchen where labour-saving devices would mean the end of household drudgery became symbolic of the utopian future. Advertising explained that this utopian order would be built around the joys of the nuclear family, presenting images of ideal mothers, ideal fathers, and matching children.
Lillian Budd and Derrick Cherrie, like Dashper, mimic 1950s moderne decor styles, conflating them explicitly with modern art styles. While Dashper uses the past to address the local art history and local art politics, Cherrie and Budd are more concerned with matters of the social. In their works the consumer dream of the 1950s has visibly soured, turned dystopian. The dream that promised emancipation is shown as covert coercion. Rather than liberating, the social is confronted as a constriction.
Made of formica and vinyl, Derrick Cherries Proluxes (1988 and 1989) are generic beds. Luxurious at a glance, they are also gross: with surfaces repellant and stylings passé. Under the influence of the New York artist and writer Dan Graham, the Proluxes were concocted as ‘anti-aphrodisiacs’.25 For Graham, capitalism’s fantasy is the promise of eternal newness. But for capitalism to be ever novel, the old ‘new’ must be regularly discarded or obscured. Consequently, capitalism keeps us in a state of amnesia which deprives us of an understanding of our historical circumstances. In reply, Graham advocates artists re-presenting the ‘anti-aphrodisiac’ of the hidden ‘just-past’ to awaken dreamers, restoring historical memory, and with it the certain freedoms that emerge with the realisation of one’s imprisonment. Cherrie’s choice of the bed as the particular commodity to embody these ideas is apposite. The bed is a place of dreaming, and amnesia could be seen as a form of dozing. In using the bed-as-commodity Cherrie can also conflate commodity fetishism and sexual fetishism: Marx and Freud.
That said, these works seem less about restoring historical memory as a radical political project than about simply souring our experience of the new and revelling in the sick underside of the consumer dream. They are not a critique of capitalism so much as a positive construction of perversity. Confirmation of this perversity can be found in works like New Again (1989) and Surface Tension (1989) which augment and mutate the basic structure of the bed, extending the argument far beyond Graham’s position. These works are like furniture for fantasy motels or brothels. New Again is an ovoid-shaped sofa, complete with handrails of the kind installed in paraplegic toilets. Resembling a pommel horse from a gymnasium, it is a luxury sex/exercise bed for the disabled. Egg-shaped, it is a perverse symbol of fertility. Similarly, the installation Surface Tension suggests a pool-bed, complete with ladders for climbing in and out and drainage holes for the evacuation of various bodily fluids (a reference perhaps to Lautreamont’s dissecting table). In hospital white, the space of the bed is literally defined as ‘sick’. If these works are haunted by the absent ‘swinger’, he is now hooked up to a pacemaker. Hugh Hefner on a drip.
Lillian Budd has been primarily concerned with women’s relation to the dream. Her works are hysterical. Hysteria is female trouble. Traumatised, the hysteric loses control of her body in an eruption of ‘speech’ from the unconscious—a protest against the peculiar rationality which constrains her. Often featuring ‘ideal’ domestic imagery from around the 1950s, Budd’s works mimic the inanity of hysterical speech, buying into its protest. Her boring films confuse and disturb viewers, who often leave part-way through in a state of incomprehension. Bogged down in gluggy resin, her clumsy collages frustrate readers. Their hysterical format implicates the ideal as sick-making.
But Budd’s works are not as incoherent as they might seem. They are booby-trapped. For example, Fresh Ideas for Man the Masterpiece (1988) mocks Dr J.H. Kellog, the eugenicist/disciplinarian who would solve your problems through a diet of fibre, exercise, and the denial of solitary vices. Taken from his 1902 manual Man the Masterpiece, or Plain Truths Told Plainly about Boyhood, Youth and Manhood, images of exercising men are grafted onto and into images of unfriendly-looking tools. If that wasn’t bad enough, several figures have been decapitated or literally defaced. Text runs all over, further obliterating the figures. It includes commands for exercise (subjecting the body to total administration) and nominates domestic devices as instruments of torture. Discipline is implied by the grid structure of the panels, the images of exercising men, and the instructions to exercise. This rationality is undone by the gratuitous manner in which the elements are arranged, suggesting some chaos at the very heart of order. Budd corrects Kellogg’s utopian vision.
Budd’s latest installations feature jumble. Old swivel chairs, wrought iron magazine racks, dinky stackable tables, out-of-date hard covers, remnants of lino and wallpaper, and odd fragments of text. Many of the objects were originally intended to brighten up the home. The passage of time has dated them. No longer sexy, they have become anti-aphrodisiacs. Budd brings them together in a manner that seems both calculated and arbitrary. The contents seem to have been deliberately placed in relation to one another, but why is not apparent. The installations enhance the pathos of her objects, emphasising their isolation, their loneliness. Collected, they beg to be read as symptoms, fragments of a biography. Their pain then becomes the pathos of a subject. That Budd increasingly hides behind other personas—Merylyn Tweedie, Popular Productions, Roland Welles, C.J. (Arthur) Craig and Sons—implies not that she is addressing another, but that she requires the presumption of distance to deal with herself. These works suggest Budd’s ambivalence about the 1950s, the time of her childhood—the time she learnt to be a lady.
New Zealand has a deep ambivalence to the modern. On the one hand New Zealand was ultimately modern—the incarnation of a modern dream (a dream we could only wake up from). On the other hand, isolation from the centres of official modern culture has caused a widespread misunderstanding of modernism as an artistic form. Ironically, it was through such misunderstanding that we have generated some of our most truly modern works. Today, artists are exploring the complex relations between the modern dream, modernism in art, and their interrelation here. Their work is perhaps as provincial as the tentative cubism of forty years earlier. The difference is that they are pleased to enjoy their provincialism as a distinctly modern circumstance.
[IMAGE: Lillian Budd]
- Miles Fairburn, ‘The Rural Myth and the New Urban Frontier: An Approach to New Zealand Social History 1870–1940′, New Zealand Journal of History 9, no. 1 (1975): 15. The suburban dream was not unique to New Zealand, though it took on a specific flavour here. In the US, Levittowns embodied an ‘American dream’. See Robert Fishman, Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia (New York: Basic Books, 1987).
- Austin Mitchell, The Half-Gallon Quarter-Acre Pavlova Paradise (Christchurch: Whitcombe and Tombs, 1972).
- ‘Depression and War’, Oxford Illustrated History of New Zealand, ed. Keith Sinclair (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 234.
- Quoted in Miles Fairburn, ‘The Rural Myth’, 17.
- Demonstration House (Wellington, Architectural Centre: 1949), np.
- Landfall Country: Work from Landfall 1947–61, ed. Charles Brasch (Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1962), 354.
- Barry Lett Galleries Newsletter 1, no. 2, 19 August 1965.
- ‘Ian Scott Talks about his Lattice Series’, Art New Zealand, no. 13, 1979: 34. Quoted in Francis Pound, ‘Killeen’s Suburbia’, Art New Zealand, no. 40, Spring 1986: 46.
- Alan Mulgan, Man Alone (Hamilton: Paul’s Book Arcade, 1949).
- ‘Artist’s Notes’, Making a Painting that Says Everything (Auckland: Sue Crockford Gallery, 1990), np.
- ‘Beginnings’, Landfall, no. 80, December 1966: 36.
- Legend has it that Toss Woollaston learnt of Hans Hofmann’s colour theories through the agency of a similarly minor artist—Flora Scales.
- Robert Leonard and Stuart McKenzie, ‘Pathetic Projections: Wilfulness in the Wilderness’, Antic, no. 5, 1989: 43–4.
- With apologies to Roger Horrocks.
- Wystan Curnow, McCahon’s ‘Necessary Protection’ (New Plymouth: Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, 1977), 4.
- For American internationalism, see Serge Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art: Abstract Expressionism, Freedom and the Cold War (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1984).
- See Francis Pound, ‘Walters and the Canon’, Gordon Walters: Order and Intuition (Auckland: Walters Publication, 1989), 51–70.
- Of the literal depth of his four Murals, Dashper wrote: ‘People say my paintings are deep in the way they say that fat people are heavy.’
- In the catalogue for his retrospective, Colin McCahon: A Survey Exhibition, the artist wrote: ‘As a painter, how do you get around either a Michelangelo or a Mondrian. It seems that the only way is not more “masking tape” but more involvement in the human situation.’ (Auckland: Auckland City Art Gallery, 1972), 28. McCahon used masking tape in painting many of his abstractions in the early 1960s.
- My thanks to Stuart McKenzie for this way of putting it.
- The title of one of Dashper’s many self-published catalogues sums up his project: Making a Painting that Says Everything.
- Francis Pound, ‘Walters and the Canon’.
- Stuart McKenzie, ‘Celestial Lavatories’, Antic, no. 6, 1989: 35–47.
- I refer to Dan Graham’s untitled paper in Discussions in Contemporary Culture: Volume 1 (Seattle: Bay Press, 1987), 88–91. It is referenced in Cherrie’s statement in Constructed Intimacies (Auckland: Moet et Chandon New Zealand Art Foundation, 1989), np.