An unnecessary distraction mars Necessary Distraction exhibition

Necessary Distraction
Auckland Art Gallery
Until April 4 2016

The Auckland Art Gallery set itself a challenge in attempting  to create an exhibition to examine new directions that have emerged in New Zealand painting over the last five years.

The 100 works by 20 artists that make up Necessary Distraction are certainly impressive but not a comprehensive overview of what has been happening in painting over the last few years. The gallery has overhyped the show and underdelivered but it’s still a show which offers delights and discussions.

For the most part the works are abstract or semi-abstract, exploring the vibrant and dynamic nature of colour. Some are self-referential, others using colour to connect with the history of abstraction and investigate the nature of colour and light.

However, few of the works have a strong social, political or emotional content and there is little in the way of figurative, narrative and landscape painting.

The exhibition could have been an opportunity to survey the breadth of approaches to painting as can often be seen in exhibitions such as the Wallace Awards.

In something of a nod to popular culture viz the home renovation series such as The Block some of the walls have been left unfinished with the grey gib walls unpainted, with just a few patches of gib stopping showing.

These walls are interesting abstract wall works in their own right but in many cases are an unnecessary distraction to the viewing of the artworks. They are intended to contrast with the vibrant paintings on display making a dynamic environment and echoing the feeling of speculation expressed in the artworks.  However, at times, it feels as though design concept has intruded on the art works, generally doing a disservice to the artists.

The concept works in a few cases as with the truncated views of Nick Austin’s works which are initially seen through a partly completed wall.

His series of paintings of hitchhiking envelopes are set in landscapes of the various seasons in whimsical versions of a depiction of the seasons.

Andrew Barbers' works derive from in the linear designs of road markings, the sports field and tennis court and the way human activities are ordered and controlled. He also features a three-dimensional abstract work in the centre of his exhibition space which provides an effective disruption.

Kirstin Carlin has created some fauvist style artworks loosely based on Frances Hodgkin’s Pleasure Gardens and works in the art gallery’s collection.  Emma Fits has transferred some of these images on to fabric and created works that also reference Louise Henderson.  

Simon Ingram has used an autonomous painting machine to create a mural of five artworks, which shows a progression from one basic idea to a more complex one as though the painting machine has been able to think and create by itself.

Milli Jannides has some evocative landscapes and still lie paintings in which paint is used to create sensuous dramas combining with the exoticism of painters such as Gustave Moreau and Howard Hodgkins.

With Dan Arps’ muscular work, paint becomes a sculptural medium often applied with a spade rather than a brush. He creates works which have a tactile quality where the paint obscures the objects the eye searches for.

Jeena Shin has a couple of her signature shard- shaped black on black on white paintings as well as painting her entire gallery space with white on white shapes so the walls shimmer in a subtle exploration of light and tone, requiring the viewer to view the space as a sculpture rather than painting.

During the course of the exhibition, Rosy Parlane will make and install a sound work as a collaborative response to Jeena Shin’s installation.

Other artists in the exhibition are Anoushka Akel, Stella Corkery, James Cousins, Nicola Farquhar, Saskia Leek, Patrick Lundberg, Oliver Perkins, Ngataiharuru Taepa, Barbara Tuck, Adrienne Vaughan.

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