#The Unmissables

The Unmissables: Three Exhibitions to See in December

The best art on show this month in the dealer galleries of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland.

A monthly round-up of artworks in Tāmaki Makaurau that we keep returning to.

Translucent green and yellow bananas, rich raspberry paint and midnight blue velvet form the lush, edible palette of the works in this month’s Unmissables.

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 that time of year when galleries are opening chocolate box shows – group exhibitions of works from the stockroom, art that could become Christmas presents for the very lucky. However, this year Melanie Roger has chosen to take a different tack, inviting one of her artists, Kirstin Carlin, to organise an exhibition of fellow painters, many of whom are represented by other galleries. The result is Ice Cream Salad, a cheerful selection of smaller works from an eclectic group of artists – Sandra Bushby, Kirstin Carlin, Stella Corkery, Cat Fooks, Kristy Gorman, Saskia Leek, Jennifer Mason, Layla Rudneva-Mackay and Salome Tanuvasa – strung around the gallery like fairy lights.

Much like committing to a whole scoop of one flavour, or picking the choice bits of avocado out of a salad, I found my favourites in this exhibition. The most delicious curatorial moment was Stella Corkery’s elegiac Untitled (2018) displayed above Kirstin Carlin’s jammy Untitled (Raspberry) (2019). Meanwhile, Salome Tanuvasa’s works on card felt fresh and understated amidst a melee of mostly unctuous works, emitting their own quiet energy through wispy calligraphic shapes and irregular edges. – LB

Ice Cream Salad
An exhibition organised by Kirstin Carlin
Melanie Roger Gallery
11–21 December 2019

Auckland-based artist Sam Thomas (b. 1989) has made wide strides in a short about of time. A graduate from Auckland University’s Elam School of Fine Arts, Thomas co-ran Snake Pit Gallery on Auckland’s High Street from 2011–13. After which, he co-founded (with his partner Pouarii Tanner) Te Arerenga Project, an artist residency programme in Rarotonga, which ran from 2015–17. They two of them also ran Mirage a gallery space in Parnell, Auckland, in 2016. All the while Thomas was building his own art practice, attending residencies in Shalini Ganendra Fine Art, Malaysia and SeMA Nanji, Seoul Korea.

A hand-blown glass chandelier of bananas aptly named Plantain Chandalier (2019) hangs in the center of Thomas’ current exhibition, Pākehā Gifts. The exhibition “feels out a genealogy for Pākehā art-making, exploring the production and refashioning of Pākehā identity over the course of 250 years”. A familiar trope of Thomas’ work, these bananas were made in collaboration with a Los Angeles glass blower. I’m a sucker for bananas, whether it be Christina Pataialii’s painted ones, Janet Lilo’s banana light boxes on K’ Rd or a chandelier. (Bananas are also having a bit of a moment in the wider art world.) For people with connection to places like the Pacific, bananas can be symbols of home, of family and of land. Picking up on this, Thomas acknowledges the role bananas play in economies like Rarotonga, where he spends much of time. So what does it mean for a Pākehā artist to recreate and represent bananas as an art object, I guess that’s the question. – LL

Sam Thomas
Pākehā Gifts
Bowerbank Ninow
27 November – 20 December 2019

Over the years, my artist-father has painted me numerous times, and so my likeness has occupied a good many walls. People have often asked if it’s odd to be so publicly distributed. But there’s a power that derives from being out there, in a durable and even prized form. This notion pops into my head when I visit She’s a force, a solo exhibition by Nelson-based Josephine Cachemaille (Aotearoa, 1971). The artist describes her works as ‘powerful wishes’, emblems of hope and strength for her teenage daughter. I imagine them travelling out from the gallery, achieving greater potency the further they scatter.

Cachemaille’s mixed-media assemblages encompass diverse signs and symbols. It is not difficult to imagine them being used in worship, as votive offerings, or to activate enchantments. Old-world bronze has been moulded into alert asps and delicate wee hands that remind me of the many-armed Aten of the Egyptian Amarna Period. Painted silhouettes pick out muscle-bound limbs and dynamic arrows, reminiscent of the punky early paintings of Bill Hammond or more recent examples by Tony de Lautour.

The work that most appeals to me, Reclaim the Night (2019), vibes strongly with modernist collage, while using a present-day technology, digital prints on canvas. Mixed in with images of the moon and an ancient Greek sculpture, I spy David Attenborough, American drag queens Trixie and Katya, and one of the Guerrilla Girls. Old icons or idols sit alongside new ones: patron saints of positive transformation. It must be a terribly frightening time to be raising a child, whether female and on the cusp of adulthood, or otherwise. It is moving indeed to witness this artist-mother’s bold, poetic optimism. – FM

Josephine Cachemaille
She’s a force
Sanderson Contemporary
3 December 2019 – 25 January 2020

Feature image: Sam Thomas, Pākehā Gifts (installation view), Bowerbank Ninow. Photograph: Sam Hartnett.

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.

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