Tuesday 30 March 2010

Don Peebles, ONZM (1922-2010)

Canvas relief, brown 1979
acrylic on canvas
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, purchased 1980

We learned the sad news of Don’s passing on the weekend, and tributes have already begun to flow. We wanted to offer our sympathies to his wife Prue and his children and extended family on behalf of the Auckland Art Gallery. He will be missed.

There is a quote that I have always admired by Don, when talking about his students who “come here experienced, and they leave (I hope) as beginners.” The quote says a lot about Don, his passion for teaching, indeed for learning, but underscoring it all, is that spirit of risk taking and testing that are essential for a life of artistic enquiry and that we appreciate so much in him.

The recognition that Don achieved during his lifetime was remarkable and a testament to his personality and his skill. His status as an Arts Foundation Icon testifies to his life-long achievements. We know that the spirit of experimentation so implicit in his work will live on.

The legacy of his prodigious artistic activity over more than 50 years will be sketched for many years to come of course. The first work acquired by the Gallery in 1960 was Wellington XII and since then we have acquired 15 works that demonstrates some of the extraordinary breadth of his creative output. The latest acquisition in 1997 came to us via the Chartwell Collection, who have also been enthusiastic supporters. His work was shown in the influential exhibition of  Aspects of New Zealand Art 1983, and more recently, his work has been on display at the Gallery in the collection exhibition, A Feeling for Form in 2005. Both exhibitions echo that character of testing and teasing the limits of his work, which is one of the ways in which we will remember him.
The lyrical exploration of form that sees his work erupt from the static picture plane of two dimensions and into the physical space of sculpture or painted relief is just one aspect of his impact on artistic production in New Zealand.

Our thoughts are with his family at this time.

Hanna Scott
Acting Contemporary Curator

Thursday 11 March 2010

The other blog

So, you may have noticed that I haven't discussed the Auckland Triennial, which opens tonight, on our blog. This is because it has a blog of it's own which covers all the goings-on and events happening from tonight until it closes on 20 June 2010 at all five venues.

Check it out here

I'll also be covering all the events, including tonights opening, through the blog and through the Gallery's twitter page.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Party with Cut Collective

Those of you who follow us on twitter or subscribe to our newsletter may have been lucky enough to win tickets to Cut Collective's private party in the Art Lounge a couple of weeks ago. It was a fabulous celebration of their work and I have put some photos from the night on our Gallery Flickr page.

The photo above has all 6 of the Cut Collective together.

I hope you all had fun!

Wednesday 3 March 2010

Mindfood go behind the scenes at the Gallery

If any of you have picked up the latest edition of Mindfood Magazine you will have seen the fabulous photo shoot they did on the Gallery's development site. Photographing our Director Chris Saines, Dame Jenny Gibbs, Project Manager for the development site Grant Thomas, Architect Richard Francis-Jones, Curator Natasha Conland and Artists Ava Seymour and Shigeyuki Kihara. 

As well as the photos, which you can see in the magazine, they also did a great behind-the-scenes video of the whole thing which you can see here. It looks like it was a lot of fun!

Monday 1 March 2010

Laurence Aberhart at Selma

Some photographs reach straight into one's heart. Laurence Aberhart’s black and white contact print of Flag and Bridge, Selma, Alabama 15 September 1988 is such a song.
Although made by a New Zealand artist, this is photograph brims with the history of modern America. One cannot look at this bridge and its reflection beneath the billowing flag and not be stunned by the image's symbolism. This bridge marks an awareness of African American civil rights from an international viewpoint.

On 7 March 1965, a day that would later became notorious as Bloody Sunday, armed state and local police officers attacked the 600 marchers trying to cross the bridge at Selma. They were there on a protest mission, to walk to Montgomery, the state capitol of Alabama.
This march was initiated by James Bevel and it registers a moment of change within the history American civil rights. Alabama had an appalling history of the non-provision of voting rights to its black citizens. Only 2% of the African American population were registered as voters even though they numbered over 50% of the state’s population.

The Library of Congress’s account of the day notes that the marchers were “demonstrating for African American voting rights and to commemorate the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, shot three weeks earlier by a state trooper while trying to protect his mother at a civil rights demonstration. On the outskirts of Selma, after they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the marchers, in plain sight of photographers and journalists, were brutally assaulted by heavily armed state troopers and deputies.”

Caption: Unknown photographer
The third civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama 21 March 1965

Front row from left: John Lewis, an unidentified nun; Reverend Ralph Abernathy; Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr.; Ralph Bunche (Undersecretary of the United Nations); Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel; Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth.
Photograph courtesy:


Using clubs and tear gas the police prevented the marchers from crossing the bridge. They returned on 9 March led by the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr and were again repelled. After five days walking, starting on 21 March 1965, 3200 people finally succeeded in getting to Montgomery, 87 kilometres away. By the time they arrived in the capital the march had increased to 25,000 people. The distinguished Hasidic scholar Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel later wrote of his close involvement with these protests, "When I marched in Selma, my feet were praying."On 26 February 2010, I telephoned Laurence Aberhart and asked if he would write an account of the circumstances of his making this important photograph at Selma. His reply is fascinating and I publish it in full here, knowing that it is an important account about the making of one of his key image.

New Zealand photography does not need to be 'of' New Zealand to be part of our culture's history. Laurence wrote:
"When I travel I often make a deliberate and conscious attempt to be in the location where a past great photographer once worked. Paris, in the locales that Atget once photographed. New Orleans and Louisiana haunted by Clarence John Laughlin. Vicksburg, Natchez, Mississippi and Selma, Alabama, where Walker Evans found his great Farm Security Administration material.

In 1988, I was lucky enough to be granted a Fulbright travel award to photograph in the southern states of the USA. There, I was often guided to the same places that Walker Evans photographed, often simply because he had worked there. So, in Alabama it was automatic to go to Selma. I was looking there for the buildings that Evans photographed, to witness the changes that time makes .

I was stuck by the symmetry of the bridge and it's reflection in the river. Remembering my other photographs of bridges [Alexandra, Otago] I thought that it would make a good subject. Looking around and knowing that Americans are so flag conscious and that I was in a 'significant' place - because of its import to the American civil rights movement - I noticed the flag on the porch of a nearby riverbank house.

I thought I could be clever and try and incorporate the two in one image. This required me to ask the owner of the house, luckily at home, if I could set my camera and tripod up on his porch to take the photograph. Permission was granted and the owner stood around watching. At some point I pulled my head out from under the dark cloth to hear the owner say to me something like

'Oh course you know that that's a famous bridge.'
[Me] 'Famous?'
'Well some would say Infamous. You know, where all that crap started from.'

It dawned on me that this was the Edmond Pettus Bridge that Martin Luther King and the civil rights march fought over in 1965. Dr King organised a civil rights march to gather in Selma to march to Alabama's capitol, Montgomery, to try and bring about voting rights for black people in the state.

The local police gathered on the far side of the bridge on the edge of the town and the route to Montgomery and on the day of the planned march, fought on the bridge with the protesters and turned them back. A few days later the protesters gathered in greater numbers, fought a pitched battle with the police again on the bridge and this time they were victorious and marched on to Alabama.

The attention that the march and the battle on the bridge gained caused more and more protesters to join the march so that they were so strong in number by the time they reached Montgomery. The decision was made to carry on the Washington DC, where, by the time they reached, the group was so large that they turned Alabama's refusal to permit black enfranchisement around. In fact, the resistance to civil rights for black Americans to vote was turned around. The battle on for the William Pettus Bridge was the turning point for America's civil rights struggle.

Back on the porch, taking the photograph, apart from wondering what the redneck Southerner was thinking as to what I was up to, my great concern was for my safety - there was, the whole time I was taking the photograph an increasingly irritated and in volume, increasingly higher pitched buzzing coming from a tiny iridescent blue humming bird, hovering just a few feet away from me, on station, guarding his nest in a hole in the riverbank very close by. I came away unscathed from both.

Laurence Aberhart
Flag and Bridge, Selma, Alabama, 15 September 1988 1989
gelatin silver print
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, purchased 1989