Having family in Brisbane provided Iggy and me with the strongest motivation to visit this Queensland city. Somehow I had formed the impression that the city was a stop-off point for Surfers Paradise and Noosa – a transit lounge for melanoma seekers. I did not expect Brisbane to become one of my favourite cities in the world. And – apart from the lure of family – why has Brisbane become a favourite destination? Because of South Bank.
South Bank is on the site of the World Expo 88. It opened to the public as a cultural precinct in June 1992. A pleasant ride on the Brisbane River by City Cat is an easy way of reaching South Bank, where there are shops, a beach, an auditorium, a conservatorium, a gallery of traditional art, a gallery of contemporary art, a library, café, book shop and more.
South African-born, British art historian, painter and lecturer Hilary Guise was the most recent speaker at Waikato Decorative and Fine Arts Society. While her topic was Gertrude Stein, Hilary provided a snapshot of the life of the arts salon in Paris and the shift in artistic expression that predicted the horrors of World War I.
Gertrude Stein was born in Pennsylvania, USA in 1874. She was educated at Johns Hopkins University and moved to Paris in 1903, where she and her brother Leo became patrons of the arts. On receiving the proceeds of their trust account of 8000 Francs they bought contemporary art works including Gaugin’s and Three Tahitians, Cezanne’s Bathers and two Renoirs. When artists were included in the Saturday evening soirees at the Stein apartment, that signalled acceptance in the Paris art world. Over her life time, Gertrude Stein is reputed to have collected 105 Picassos and 75 Matisses.Picasso was a particular friend. His painting of Gertrude took over 90 sittings “and he still could not find the real Gertrude”.
Also in Stein’s realm were Braques, Rousseau, Matisse, Jewish writer and poet Max Jacob and Guillaume Appollinaire, the witty “illegitimate child of a wayward Polish aristocrat”. Avant-garde Californians moved into the same apartment building that the Steins lived. They were Isadora Duncan, who was breaking new ground in the world of dance, and her partner.
In 1907, Stein met her lifelong partner Alice B Toklas. Each evening, Alice would copy out what Gertrude had written during the day. A stream of consciousness writer, Gertrude did not use commas. She is reputed to have said, “You ought to know where to breathe without being told.” Gertrude bequeathed her writing to Toklas but the Stein family broke into the apartment and stole it, so Toklas did not ever come into possession of her inheritance.
At a time that painters represented beauty, Picasso embraced brutality and ugliness. At the Ballet Russe, Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Diaghilev and Vaslav Nijinsky were capturing barbarism and primitivism with their music and choreography.
Hilary said that to predict what is going to happen next in the world, look to what the artists are saying now. The sensitivity that contributes to artistic expression makes the world’s artists super-aware of where the world is heading.
When Barry Venning lectured the Waikato Decorative and Fine Arts Society on Charles Saatchi’s art collection, he provided a wealth of examples. There were some that particularly resonated with me. I didn’t necessarily like the works. These were the works that burnt powerful images in my mind. They were the works that provoked that seemingly unanswerable question – “What is art?”
I was grateful to Barry for revisiting his lecture and offering some detail about the works.
Kader Attia’s installation from the back looks like a group of veiled Muslim women at prayer. From the front, the bodies are empty shells. Barry describes them as “devoid of personhood or spirit”.
Marc Quinn took a latex cast of his face, filled it with nine litres of his blood which was drawn off him a pint at a time every few weeks and frozen. The latex was then removed to produce this sculpture of frozen blood. Barry tells me it is quite beautiful. I can’t get past the thought of what the sculpture is made from to see any beauty in this creation. The idea makes me feel ill. Quinn aims to repeat the exercise every five years for the rest of his life.
The Little Artists, John Cake and Darnet Neave, who parody well-known contemporary art, produced frozen raspberry jam sculptures on lolly sticks and called their art works “Lick Yourself”. Well, there’s a way to put you off raspberry jam forever. What a revolting association with “Self”. Clever though! Really clever.
Quinn also sculpted Alison Lapper Pregnant. Alison Lapper was born without arms and with shortened legs. Quinn’s marble sculpture of her is 3.55 metres high and was exhibited on a plinth at Trafalgar Square until late 2007. The sculpture uses traditional material and style in conjunction with a non-traditional subject. By imitating the idealised Greek sculptural form with non-traditional subject matter, Quinn debunks the idea of the perfection of the human body. How authentic in this era of the airbrush.
I understand this installation is a reflection of Tracey Emin’s disrupted and disturbed life. A close-up of the detritus around her bed would, no doubt, be quite revealing.
Barry Venning also spoke of “No Woman No Cry”, which Saatchi did not acquire. “The Tate beat him to it,” said Barry. The title of the painting comes from Bob Marley’s song about being poor in Jamaica. Ofili’s painting refers to Doreen Lawrence, the mother of Stephen Lawrence, who was killed by a gang of white racists when he was on his way home from school in 1993. The painting is a protest about alleged Police negligence. It was said that the Police did not take the investigation seriously and failed to collect appropriate forensic information. Finally, in 2012, the gang members were imprisoned, with two being convicted of murder. The Police, who tried to frame Stephen’s friend Dwayne Brookes (who had also been attacked), had to pay $100,000 compensation to Dwayne when it was found that the Metropolitan Police of that time were institutionally racist.
So, thank you, Barry, for bringing such a diverse and interesting collection to our attention. Entrance to the Saatchi Gallery is free. What a gift to those who live in London and those who travel there. Apparently the exhibitions change regularly, too, so revisiting would be most rewarding. For those of us who are far from London, it is worth spending some time looking at the website. For those who think I have everything and are short of gift ideas – feel free to visit the Saatchi shop and merchandise website. I saw all kinds of objects and art works I could see myself acquiring. You might find something for me to gift to you, as well!
So that was a brief taste of an infinitesimal selection of Charles Saatchi’s art collection. I challenge those who visit this post to offer a definition of art.
Associate Lecturer with the Open University, Barry Venning is an acknowledged expert on the artist JMW Turner. As well as writing a book on Turner for publisher Phaedon (a book which sold 27,000 copies), Barry has published a study of John Constable’s paintings. However, rather than hearing about Turner, WaikatoDFAS asked Barry to ask on another area of interest – the art works of Charles Saatchi. The committee settled upon the topic long before Saatchi hit the headlines for his treatment of Nigella Lawson. We decided to continue with the Saatchi lecture as, whatever the issues of his personal life, his art collection is interesting.
Barry is in New Zealand touring as a NADFAS lecturer for the New Zealand’s Decorative and Fine Arts Societies. He looked a bit pale when, on Thursday, we told him the news that there had been a significant earthquake in Wellington, his next destination. We hope his journey is not proving too terrifying, as Barry has arrived in Wellington to speak both at Te Papa (New Zealand’s national museum) and at Wellington DFAS’s meeting. The region has continued to throw some unpleasant aftershocks. Barry will, no doubt, be pleased to be heading home to England when his lecture tour finishes in the next day or so.
Barry is an engaging lecturer – energetic, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. He generously spent time with Kiwicommunicator the day after the lecture reiterating some key points.
About Saatchi – Saatchi started his work with an entry level job with an ad agency in London, clipping the firm’s advertisements from newspapers as proof to clients that their ad had been published. From there, he became a copywriter, with his early work largely based on other people’s copywriting.
Saatchi got together with Ross Cramer to form Cramersaatchi. His ground-breaking “What if men could become pregnant?” ad belongs to this period.
In 1970, with his brother Maurice, he formed Saatchi & Saatchi. Maurice worked on the account of Michael Heseltine, who challenged Margaret Thatcher. The British electoral system deemed television election ads to be unlawful, so Maurice’s clever billboard campaigns for Heseltine put Saatchi & Saatchi on the map. The business acquired other companies and expanded worldwide, including to Auckland, New Zealand where the agency ran from a stunningly redeveloped industrial building in Parnell.
In 1969, Charles Saatchi started collecting art works – not one off pieces, but entire exhibitions of up-and-coming artists in Britain. Saatchi became an influential patron whose purchases, according to Barry Venning, could instantly add a zero to the sum artists could charge for their work. His decision to offload en masse the work of a given artist could, on the other hand, instantly drop the value of the artist’s work.
Barry took DFAS guests through a number of art works which have shown at various times in Saatchi’s gallery. The images he shared were sometimes bewildering, often disturbing, nearly always challenging. New Zealand art commentator Justin Paton offers the view that a possible criteria for assessing artistic value is the level at which an art work is thought-provoking. On that basis, look out for some interesting works in Kiwicommunicator’s next post.
A first for Kiwicommunicator – reblogging. I thought this post on Travelling with Ana was fascinating – the art that is created from found objects. Wouldn’t it be a thrill to see a project like this go global? Click on Washed ashore to read more.
Reusing materials appeals to me. The Waikato Times Business Section had an article on a tyre company making rubber matting from tyres that can no longer be used on vehicles. The company has recovered its initial investment and is beginning to make a profit. Good news all around.
It had to happen. I am a feet firmly on the ground woman, but with my late father having flown 19,500 hours, two of my brothers heavily involved in recreational flying and my husband Iggy completely obsessed with aviation, there has to be the occasional post with a flying flavour.
It’s breath-taking how quickly Iggy can swing around all manner of topics into “that reminds me of a story” to do with flying. An invitation to the Piako Gliding Club’s Awards Night conjured up visions of a room packed full of Iggies, arms waving to demonstrate the phenomenal lift that came from a particularly good swathe of lenticular alto cumulus over the Kaimai Ranges or the death-defying speed with which they brought their gliders in to land at Matamata Airfield. Still, Kiwicommunicator must do what she must, so it was on with the lippie on a particularly inclement night, into the trusty Corolla, and over the swamps and plains to the Matamata Soaring Centre.
We had an excellent night out. Jan and Bill Mace can be credited with encouraging the club’s culture of hospitality and welcome. Newbies were pulled into conversations with old hands and – unusually for this part of the world – partners were included in genuine dialogue with the blokes. I especially enjoyed the company of Geoff, who ended up sitting alongside me. We shared an interest in cooking, art and jewellery. Geoff and I exchanged info on where you can buy tiny containers of coconut milk so that you don’t have to throw out the remaining half can (tins of Trident stocked by New World and tetra packs of Dole stocked by Countdown). A manufacturing jeweller based in Cambridge, Geoff cast the beautiful bronze award that was sitting at our table. It does not represent any bird in particular, but flight in general. I could almost be persuaded to take up gliding to have that trophy gracing my living room for a year.
Jan and Bill spent the afternoon putting together the dinner for nearly 50 guests – roast meat and lots of vegetables (I think the kumara and beans were most likely home-grown by the Maces). It’s such a treat, as roast dinners don’t feature on the menu for just the two of us. It wasn’t just the predictable dishes, either. I went back for seconds of Jan’s tomato and aubergines with a crumble topping. A big thumbs up to the gliding club members who rolled up their sleeves to help carve the meat and clear away after the dinner. It was like a big, happy family occasion – a wide range of age-groups and the warmest buzz of conversation.
Congratulations to the award winners – and to the crew who helped them get there: the instructors, those who prepare the briefings, the tow pilots, and those who crunch the numbers and show such good stewardship of club funds.
Tim Bromhead was successful in Australia – the first New Zealander to defend his place as winner of the prestigious Trans-Tasman Trophy.
While Lars Tharp was in Hamilton, he attracted a sell-out group to a study day. Coming from a household that is singularly lacking in ceramic treasures, I took a prurient interest in the valuations placed on other people’s collectibles. Of more lasting value from my perspective was, however, Lars’ discussion of the place of clay in our lives from time immemorial through to some of the sophisticated technological requirements of the present day.
So where to start? With the nosey bit, of course!
Lars reiterated his key message of his lecture to the Waikato Decorative and Fine Arts Society (DFAS) the night before. The story behind the item can add immeasurably to its value. Lars showed a picture of the Walsingham bowl, on display at Burghley House – reputedly a gift from Sir Francis Drake to Queen Elizabeth I, who passed the blue bowl on to Walsingham. He described the ceramic ware as “unremarkable”, but the provenance would have increased its value substantially. It would be kind of cool to be able pass round the peanuts in a bowl that Queen Elizabeth I had handled.
Story or no story, the value of Japanese wares has plummeted – even treasures go in and out of fashion, apparently. Lars described an exquisitely hand-painted Japanese tea set as “almost impossible to sell at auction”. A Wedgwood transfer-printed dish might, he suggested, reach £15.
One seminar guest was pretty proud of his armorial ware – a little blue and white 1760s sauce boat, featuring painted landscapes and a coat of arms, produced for the Russell family of Scotland. Lars valued it at between £600 to £900 – about what the owner expected. Another guest, the owner of an intricately decorated bowl that looked like part of a washstand set, was less impressed. The owner did not react to the valuation. “Come on,” urged Lars. “Look thrilled.” The peeved owner told him that she was previously told that the bowl was worth about £1000 more than that. “Was the person who gave you that valuation prepared to pay you that much?” asked Lars.
I suppose it is all a matter of taste – and clearly Antiques Roadshow taste is something in which I am seriously deficient. It seemed to me that the uglier the item the more it was worth. Hearing that a huge rhinoceros horn on a carved ebony stand might reach up to £40,000 (“and there’s a matching one at home”) I did not feel even a twinge of envy. I was pleased to go home to my fine pottery bowl in shades of blue and green, thrown and glazed by the late Hugh Prosser. I watch the light through our elegant blue Hogland glass bowl, carried on the knee of a special friend on a flight all the way from Nelson to Auckland, to ensure it reached Iggy and me intact for our wedding day. I run my hands over the earthiness of our Dave Wolland ewer, thrown in Matakohe from local Northland clay, and given to us by another friend as a wedding gift, as a symbol of what is enduring.
What did I learn about the history of ceramics? Many religions refer to mankind as being created by God out of clay. Burials have close associations with clay, with urns being used for ashes. Fired clay goes back to the Ice Age. Unfired clay goes back to 25,000 BC. Porcelain was the first globally traded product. Once humans settled in towns, they needed to keep records, hence the development of hieroglyphics – records baked in clay. Lars compared the life of information stored that way (4,500 years) compared to the longevity of information stored on a USB stick. When the transmission of electrical power started in the 19th century, insulators made of clay were an essential part of the process.
Here’s one for you, Iggy. The braking systems on aeroplanes had ceramic components.
I always enjoy a little bit of linguistic information. In ancient times, the elders met to decide who was to be voted out of the city. Shards of broken pottery, called “ostra” had the names of those who were not wanted in the community scratched onto them. The shards were placed in a vase. As each shard was drawn from the vase, a vote was cast as to whether the person should be allowed to stay. The person who won the least votes had to leave the city – he was “ostracised”.
Lars’ useful tips for collectors included: If you like something and you can afford it, buy it. If you are told that an item is old and it is in good condition, ask why it is being sold – and ask for the claims being made about the item to be put in writing. Be on guard if a dealer can’t tell you about an item. Research what price range the items you are interested in sell for – alarm bells should ring if the price is wrong.
The day was, indeed, my pot of gold. Lars shared such a wealth of knowledge – and knowledge does not need to be dusted, insured or left to family members to feud over. That’s real gold in my book.
In 2008, Hamilton City Council looked to local artist Gaye Jurisich to deal to the eyesore that was created when established trees were butchered to create a space to be used annually for Hamilton’s misguided and debt-producing foray into V8 car racing. The sculpture was required to cover a huge footprint, while being easily taken apart so the area could be used annually for the V8 pits. It must have been a challenging brief.
When Passing Red was installed, it attracted the kind of invective that said more about the ignorance of those commentating than about the sculpture. A couple of weeks ago a driver crashed into Passing Red, badly damaging himself, his vehicle and the sculpture, with one end of it now being potentially too costly to repair. The Waikato Times saw fit to publish another rush of hate mail, with some correspondents indicating that they thought the accidental demolition of part of the sculpture was good news. This was followed by the more measured suggestion that, with the V8s event now onsold to that more appropriate location – the City of Cars up the road – Passing Red could be relocated in a park where people could interact more readily than they can in its current site on a busy street.
Local art commentator Peter Dornauf hit the print media with an opinion piece, lambasting the Passing Red critics, labelling them and nearly everyone else who lives in Hamilton as Philistines. Journalist Denise Irvine, usually easy-going, responded strongly, saying that attendance at the recent Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival proved that “Hamiltonians aren’t yokels and bogans”. “We may not all be card-carrying members of the city’s literati but we love, celebrate and support this place in all its colours and idiosyncrasies,” she says.
Gaye Jurisich herself has remained quiet. Perhaps she has decided not to dignify her most vicious critics with a response. In his book “How to look at a Painting”, Justin Paton offers a definition of art – that it should provoke discussion. On this basis, Gaye Jurisich’s Passing Red meets the criteria. Or does it? With the exception of Denise Irvine’s article, the artistic qualities of the piece have barely rated a mention. The focus has been on vitriole rather than consideration of form, colour, line, texture and shape – a starting point from which to consider the artist’s meaning.
“Public art and public debate are inextricably linked,” says Denise Irvine. It would be good to hear more from those who value creativity and imagination – which by its very nature cannot please everyone.