The Unmissables: Three Exhibitions to See in August
A monthly round-up of artworks in Tāmaki Makaurau that we keep returning to.
Dan Arps and Fiona Clark. Hannah Valentine and Toss Woollaston. Two dual-artist shows – unlikely pairings, both – feature in this month’s picks. Plus, we just couldn’t go past the colour-drenched work of Cat Fooks.
Once again, our team of art critics, Lucinda Bennett, Lana Lopesi and Francis McWhannell, has searched the city to find the best art on show this month in the dealer galleries of Tāmaki Makaurau.
It’s an unexpected pairing. Dan Arps’ lumpen sculptures displayed on a motley collection of whitewashed, mirrored and neon-graffitied plinths. On the surrounding walls, a choice selection of photographs from Fiona Clark’s Body Building series (1980–82), bronzed musclemen flexing and glowing, their bodies carved and contoured, looking nothing like flesh.
It’s an unexpected pairing, but a generative one. Arps’ works are so clearly handmade, slightly sloppy and undone, waxy fingerprints visible on his bronze Seated Figure (2018), its wobbly limbs and dark matte patina so far removed from the slick golden bodies that populate Clark’s photographs. Alongside Arps’ sculptures, those bodies look too hard, too heroic, too tightly managed. The coarseness of Arps’ sculptures works to exacerbate the uncut perfection of those bodies. Conversely, the bodies’ hard, precise lines endear the relative softness of Arps’ objects to me, to the point where I find myself feeling a strange sympathy towards them.
It’s a case where truth is stranger than fiction. I find it easier to imagine a person using their hands to mould, build and paint any of Arps’ works than to imagine the actions that would lead to a person having a body like the men in Clark’s photographs. – LB
Dan Arps & Fiona Clark
Michael Lett Gallery
31 July — 31 August 2019
Something other, held in common sees Hannah Valentine (Aotearoa, 1989) respond to celebrated painter Toss Woollaston (1910–1998), creating cast bronze objects and wooden display structures for a selection of his works. Valentine has made similar pieces before (often emulating exercise gear and racks), but these strike a different chord. The recycled timber stands echo mid-century furniture by the likes of Ernst Plischke, and evoke the pioneering dealer gallery of Helen Hitchings, who showed Woollaston’s work and shared his vision for an Aotearoa art that was forward- and outward-looking, yet coloured by the place in which it was made.
Valentine’s bronze works feel scientific. They recall, by turns, measuring sticks and specimens from some geological survey. Several are riddled with pebble-like forms, giving them the aspect of slices of riverbed, and putting me in mind of a cobbled stream I once saw near Kyoto. Looking closer, however, I discover that the pebbles are cast thumbs or fingers (complete with fine prints), pointing to the stridently handmade quality of Woollaston’s landscape painting: gestural abstraction as much as mimesis.
I find myself thinking of the trickiness of time. How difficult it is to apprehend even a recent past, such as that lived by Woollaston, from which we have letters, photographs, works of art. How truly incomprehensible is geologic time. Woollaston’s watercolours, vulnerable to fading, browning, and even rot, if they are not carefully stored, contrast with Valentine’s bronzes, which might withstand burial, flood, most anything short of a magma dip. Two bodies of work, hinting at the ephemerality and endurance of the human, and reflecting the artists’ shared affinity and respect for the world that supports us: something held in common, at least for now. – FM
Something other, held in common
Hannah Valentine and Toss Woollaston
8–24 August 2019
When I encounter new pieces by Cat Fooks (Aotearoa, 1976), the words that occur to me tend to relate to energy, freshness, and immediacy. Drenched in colour, her madcap assemblages and wall works arrest the eye. They pulse with a panoply of different paints: now waxy-flat, now powdery as pollen smudged on a sleeve, now glossy like melted ice-cream, now puckering like the same ice-cream left to congeal on a hot footpath.
But Fooks’ practice is also, paradoxically, a slow burn. Her works are seldom quickly turned out, instead developing gradually. Something of this is evident in their complex layers and patterns, which declare themselves products of tinkering, as much as fast and furious experimentation. Although she is a relatively recent addition to the dealer gallery scene in Tāmaki Makaurau, Fooks is no newbie. She has been painting since the late 1990s. Years of concerted making lie behind her pieces, and they reward sustained attention.
I find myself worrying that a single visit to Sprung from the soil is hardly enough to really appreciate the works. Fooks is great at the first impression, delivering on both the gut punch and the memory tickle (a visitor nearby me chuckles that she keeps thinking of old jumpers). It would be a jaded soul indeed who had zero figs to give. But, really, her works want time. I know this because I own one, and every day brings a different effect. The light changes. My mood shifts. Some hidden element emerges – like a sprout wending its way out of a deep, rich sod. – FM
Sprung from the soil
Anna Miles Gallery
28 July – 23 August 2019
Feature image, top of page:
Cat Fooks, Sprung from the soil, 2019. Photograph by Sam Hartnett, courtesy of Anna Miles Gallery.
The Unmissables is presented in a partnership with the New Zealand Contemporary Art Trust, which covers the cost of paying our writers. We retain all editorial control.