Thursday 25 October 2012

Jim Allen

Jim Allen's sculpture Polynesia is proving to be a popular artwork in the section of our collection exhibition Toi Aotearoa that affirms New Zealand's art from the period 1900 to 1965. It is not only because Polynesia is a rigorously realist sculpture but because the figure's ambitious scale and its sensuality. It is a beguiling sculpture which exudes a keen sense of life.

Polynesia is an important life-size sculpture from the period when Jim Allen was living in London. It was created as his submitted diploma work for the Royal College of Art. By employing the title Polynesia, Allen utilises a neo-romantic mirroring of a subject with its title, a feature commonly utilised by many artists of the period; such as Len Lye, George Woods, Russell Clark and Rita Angus.

The high finish that Jim has given to the ancaster limestone gives the nude figure a human quality all the more reinforced by the stylisation and articulation of her limbs. Like his teacher Frank Dobson's own figurative sculpture and drawing, there is a scrutinising focus upon expressing an erotic nature to the woman's form.

The figure does not result from any preparatory drawing; being in itself a direct stone carving which began at the front and then progressed to the rear of the figure. Ancaster stone is Middle Jurassic period oolitic limestone, quarried around Ancaster, Lincolnshire. This warm and fleshy material was one of Frank Dobson's and Henry Moore's own favourite British stones.

Together with Molly Macalister, Jim Allen is a key post World War II New Zealand sculptor. All of Jim's publicly commissioned work has been unfortunately destroyed. His commission for the Pakuranga Mall just disappeared. Polynesia is the artist's only major sculpture pre-1965 which is now extant.

The artist placed this sculpture on loan to The University of Auckland in 1952 and chose to gift it to the people of Auckland in 2007 as a permanent addition to this Gallery's collection. It has since become one of the public's favourite examples of New Zealand sculpture.

Jim Allen (William Robert Allen) was born in Wellington in 1922 and was enrolled at the Wellington Technical Institute from 1939 to 1940. After enlisting in the New Zealand Army, he travelled to Egypt and Italy and later studied sculpture at the Institute di Arte in Florence. Returning to New Zealand in 1946, he studied sculpture at the the University of Canterbury School of Fine Art under Francis Shurrock and graduated in 1948.
With the support of a New Zealand Art Society scholarship, Jim Allen continued studying at the Royal College of Art in London under the tutelage of Professor Frank Dobson. At the same time he worked part-time for the sculptor James Woodford. After returning to New Zealand during 1952, he gained a position within the arts and craft section of the Department of Education in Auckland, before working as a lecturer, then Professor of Sculpture at the Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland (1960 to 1977). (I am grateful to Kate McGahey for these biographical notes.)

From 1977 he became the distinguished Director of the Sydney College of the Arts. Working mainly in a non-figurative style, after 1969 he developed an interest in kinetic sculpture, performance art as well as environmental art working with both town planners and architects on city environs.

Internationally recognised as a major New Zealand artist, Jim Allen has exhibited extensively. His influence as an artist and teacher is widely regarded as exemplary. As both a mentor and art educator he is considered an emblematic teacher within this country's tertiary art community.

During the last Auckland Triennial, Jim presented a conversation with Simon Ingram that was a revelation to all were lucky enough to have attended. Jim confirmed how much his work has been about people and their relationships. Instead of being a postulation of theory, all of his art has been dedicated to the reality of human experience. This fact is not widely discussed in the the literature about his vocation as an artist.

In April 2007 Jim Allen was invested with an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Sydney in gratitude for his contribution to the art of Australia. He is also an Honorary Doctor of AIT University. Jim's contribution to contemporary art in New Zealand is both on-going and exemplary.

I am not a portrait photographer but I could not let the occasion of one of Jim's visits to the gallery go unpassed without taking a snapshot of him with his sculpture Polynesia.

Jim Allen
Polynesia 1952
Ancaster limestone
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki
gift of the artist, 2007

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Staff spotlight: Mathew Norman

Mathew Norman is like a kid in a candy store. Only instead of sweet treats, the objects of his desire can be found in Auckland Art Gallery’s collection of historic works on paper.

Mathew joined the Gallery in July as assistant curator. It’s not his first time on staff – in 2008 he was awarded a Marylyn Mayo internship and spent nine weeks researching a staggering 1,500 artworks.

Prior to joining the Gallery, Mathew worked in the print collection at the British Museum in London, where he received two prestigious scholarships. He’s also worked at Te Papa, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and at the National Gallery of Ireland… and in a dairy factory.

Mathew is responsible for the international print collection, supporting Mary Kisler in her role as Senior Curator, Mackelvie Collection, International Art. He also facilitates visits to the Gallery’s print room and supervises students and visitors as they examine the artworks.

One of the biggest drawcards of the role for Mathew was access to the Gallery’s collection. “This is one of the three finest collections in New Zealand from an historical perspective – and we have a superb print collection with real depth, which makes it possible to produce exhibitions and scholarship of merit.”

The Gallery’s collection of more than 15,000 artworks contains a large number of objects by unknown artists. Mathew is undertaking research to help ‘fill in the gaps’, and has already had some success in identifying artists. At the end of October he’ll be presenting a talk about a seventeenth-century oil painting titled Battle Scene, which he believes he’s been able to attribute to a specific artist. “I’m awaiting the opinion of an expert in the Netherlands, but the evidence points to the artist I have identified,” he says.

On top of this, Mathew’s busy planning an exhibition called Travels with Mr Hollar which will open in early 2013. It will be the Gallery’s first large-scale exhibition of work by 17th century Bohemian artist Wenceslaus Hollar.

So how do curators put together an exhibition? “I get the impression people think we just dream up a list of objects and throw them up on the wall or onto plinths – of course it’s not that easy. There’s a huge amount of teasing out of the relationships between the works that has to be done. There has to be a rationale and it has to be obvious to visitors.”

Mathew says the best part of his job is the hands-on access to artworks. “I’m not a theoretician. I’m about the objects themselves,” he says. “I consider myself very lucky to be able to work with objects of real international significance.”

When he’s not poring over prints, Mathew enjoys cheese and baroque music, and is currently dreaming of setting up his own vegetable garden.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Appointment of Principal Curator

I am very pleased to announce the appointment of Zara Stanhope to the new role of Principal Curator at the Gallery. Zara holds an MA from the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London (Art in Britain 1840-1966), a BA (History of Art), University of Reading, (majoring in Twentieth Century Art), and is currently in the final stages of completing her candidacy for a PhD at the Australian National University, Canberra, which she commenced in 2009. The subject of her thesis is contemporary social art practice in public spaces.

In her pre-art museum life, Zara also worked as an Audit Manager at PriceWaterhouseCoopers in Melbourne and London, is a Chartered Accountant (ACA), and holds a B Comm (Hons) from the University of Melbourne.

Concurrent with her present studies, Zara chairs the National Exhibitions Touring Service in Victoria (2012-) and before that was a member of its board (2009-12); she is teaching Art Theory at the School of Art, ANU (2012-); is a Guest Curator at the Bundanon Trust (2012-); has organised The World and World-Making Conference at ANU (2011); and is an Advisor to RMIT's University School of Art Galleries Board, Melbourne (2010-).

She was previously Deputy Director, Senior Curator at Heide Museum of Modern Art, in Melbourne, from 2005-2008 and, prior to that, was a Senior Curator there from 2002-2005. As part of her latter role, she helped to reshape the organisation's vision and established a programming team that brought curatorial, collection, public and education staff together with a focus on innovative, audience-focused programming and operations.

From 1999-2002, Zara was inaugural Director of Adam Art Gallery at Victoria University in Wellington, where she developed a strong reputation for research and for delivering educative and accessible programming. Before that, from 1993-1999, she was Assistant Director of Monash University Gallery (now Monash University Museum of Art), Melbourne, and Gallery Assistant at the Wapping Arts Trust, London.

Zara has an extensive background as a curator and art writer. She is currently working on Arthur Boyd: art and empathy for the Bundanon Trust (2013); curated The world in painting for Heide MoMA (2009); We know who we are for Gertrude Contemporary Art Space (2006); Three Colours, Gordon Bennett and Peter Robinson for Heide MoMA (2004); and Co-Existenz: Parallel worlds and Botanica for Adam Art Gallery (2001).

She is also currently co-editing the Humanities Research Journal, World and World-Making in Art (2013) and Asian Connectivities (2013), and edited Les Kossatz: The Art of Existence in 2008.

Other projects include The Persistence of Pop, Monash (1999) and The Body Remembers: Jill Scott, ACCA (1996). Among her co-curated projects are TRANS VERSA, artists from Australia and New Zealand, with Danae Mossman, which toured to Chile (2006); Heide: Future, Present, Past with Kendrah Morgan (2006); and Close Quarters, Contemporary Art from Australia and New Zealand with Christina Barton and Clare Williamson, Monash and ACCA (1998-2000).

Zara comes to this new role as a highly qualified and very experienced art museum curator, art writer and gallery programme manager, who I am confident will make a positive impact on our collection development, exhibitions and research activities. She is very much looking forward to returning full time to the art museum sector.

Zara will commence work at the Gallery in March 2013.

Chris Saines

Friday 12 October 2012

Artworks on loan, October 2012

At Auckland Art Gallery we have a very busy loans programme, with artworks constantly travelling to museums and art galleries throughout New Zealand and around the world.  Here's a rundown of some of the artworks from Auckland Art Gallery and Chartwell collections that are currently on show elsewhere.  

You can find out more about our collection and loans policies at:

Pataka Art + Museum, Porirua

One of the current exhibitions at Pataka Art + Museum is Joe Sheehan: Other Stories, a major survey show featuring a range of sculptural work by Joe Sheehan.  This exhibition is open until 25 November 2012, and if you're in the Wellington region this would be a great opportunity to view Joe Sheehan's incredible sculptures made from pounamu, marble, granite and other types of stone.

Joe Sheehan, Slide Show Carousel 2, 2009, (detail), 80 jade and pounamu slides, slide projector, Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 2011

Two works from the Chartwell collection are included in this exhibition - Slide Show Carousel 2 and Words Fail.

Joe Sheehan, Words Fail, 2011, carrara marble, Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 2011

Dunedin Public Art Gallery

Dunedin Public Art Gallery is currently showing work by Alfred O'Keeffe (1858-1941), who was an artist and teacher based in Dunedin.  O’Keeffe studied at the Académie Julian in Paris during the 1890s, at the same time as the young Charles Goldie attended the school. Unlike Goldie, O’Keeffe developed an impressionist style.

Alfred O'Keeffe, Still Life: Roses and Arum Lilies, 1906, oil on cardboard, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1957

City Gallery Wellington

On 19 October 2012, Ben Cauchi: The Sophist's Mirror opens at City Gallery WellingtonTwo works by Ben Cauchi from the Chartwell collection are included in the exhibition - The way of all things and Loose Canvas
Ben Cauchi, The way of all things, 2010, wet-collodion on acrylic, Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 2010

Ben Cauchi, Loose Canvas, 2007, tintype, Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2009

The series of public programmes offered as part of this exhibition would offer some fascinating insights into Ben Cauchi's practice, and would certainly be interesting if you wanted to find out more about the techniques used to create these photographs.

Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt, Germany

Further afield, the exhibition Contact.  Artists from Aotearoa New Zealand has just opened at Frankfurter Kunstverein in Frankfurt, Germany.  This exhibition is part of the New Zealand presence at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where New Zealand is the Guest of Honour for 2012.

Included in this exhibition is one of Francis Upritchard's 'heads', Untitled 1, on loan from the Chartwell Collection.

Francis Upritchard, Untitled 1 2002-2003, Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2003

If you're interested in finding out more about this exhibition, check out the video below made by the team at NZ@Frankfurt. 

Thursday 11 October 2012

The fascination with the savage ‘Other’

A look at the Lounge room Tribalism series of paintings by Graham Fletcher in Home AKL by Gallery Guide Shahriar Asdollah-Zadeh

Western cultures have always had a fascination with the ‘other’. The term ‘other’ is derived from the concept of Orientalism and the Arabesque, with the West colonising the ‘savage’ and indoctrinating them into the new world, supposedly civilising them towards global integration. Unfortunately, Colonialism still exists in complex forms today.

Graham Fletcher’s series of paintings and sculptures Lounge Room Tribalism combines the familiar and the unknown, the primitive and the modern. Home AKL includes two paintings and five sculptures from this large body of work. By introducing the ideas of the fascination with the ‘other’ to the audience in the first room, the curators set the tone for the exhibition.

Graham Fletcher, Untitled, 2010
from Lounge Room Tribalism
oil on canvas, The University of Auckland Art Collection
Within the Untitled paintings, there is a juxtaposition of two cultures in one composition. You see fertility and God-like totems next to psychedelic patterns of fabric, wallpaper and furniture. What is striking is that they are ‘Tribal’ objects’ set inside a modernist interior.

Holding onto the past and keeping its memory is what is interesting with this painting series. It is as if these worlds have always co-existed  (coloniser, colonised) within these living room compositions. These paintings tell a visual story. They slowly reveal themselves and prompt many questions. What is behind the desire to domesticate the primitive? What are these indigenous artefacts, which disturb modern design doing in suburban homes around the country?

Graham Fletcher, Untitled, 2010
from Lounge Room Tribalism
oil on canvas, courtesy of Melanie Roger Gallery
The objects demand attention and command a physical presence, may it be just curiosity or a sense of bringing the spiritual back to the suburbs. They are taken out of their original use and context and placed in a new ‘home’. There, they become inactive and join the vases, picture frames and coffee table books. Now these objects of culture and tradition are transformed into exotic household interior design. Detached of cultural significance, they have lost their function and are fetishized.

For a more comprehensive look into the ideas behind Graham Fletcher's paintings, I recommend the publication produced by Mangere Arts Centre. It is a well-executed catalogue in design and writing content, well worth a read.

Read Shahriar's previous posts on Home AKL here.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Conserving the Cornwall Park Map

Camilla Baskcomb, paper conservator, and Laura Mirebeau, paper conservation intern, are glad to open the doors of their conservation studio in order to present this project.

In early June, a large 1901 hand-drawn map of the proposed design for Cornwall Park came into our paper conservation lab, which was initially stored at the Auckland Museum by the Logan Campell Residual Estate. This map, composed of six sheets of wove paper lined on canvas, measures 260 x 303 cm, and is nailed along both the top and bottom edges on wooden battens, which allow it to be rolled and unrolled. You will easily guess that the unusual size of this document is quite problematic for its conservation.

The map is painted with watercolour, and one can see the graphite preparatory drawing and squaring up by looking closely. It is particularly interesting and moving to realize that the original design differs from the park as we can enjoy it today, as one can see two lakes on the map that were never built.

Before treatment


The map was kept in storage rolled up and thus suffered from severe distortions and horizontal undulations.

The bottom edge was particularly damaged along the batten, creating several areas of losses, caused by pests (one can see rodent teeth marks when looking closely) and by the storage conditions. Two creases were weakening the top edge of the map along the batten. The surface was embedded with dust and grime throughout, but mostly in the bottom part, and along the edges. The paper had darkened and discoloured over time, with brown foxing spots visible, water stains, splash marks, footmarks, dark brown stains (probably of a corrosive nature), and rust stains. These damages are mainly due to atmospheric pollutants, a previous water damage, and generally bad handling of the plan.

Before treatment close-ups of the areas of losses, ingrained dirt and teeth marks


Raking light examination showed us the extent of the distortions. Extensive photographic work has been undertaken by Gallery photographer John McIver.

We also discovered watermarks during the examination phase, along the left edge of each sheet of paper, which identified the papermaker. “James Whatman Turkey Mill Kent 1900” reads the watermark, giving us the manufacturer, the location and the date the paper was made. Whatman invented wove paper, soon very esteemed by architects, engineers, and surveyors who were looking for a uniform surface for their detailed drawings.1

After measuring each sheet, we came to the conclusion that it was actually Antiquarian wove paper, the largest hand-made paper ever made in Europe, which “became famous for its use in the production of maps, prints and watercolours”2. That paper was almost universally used by 1873, according to that same book, and could take up to a year to properly dry before being sold. As the map had been drawn in 1901 in New Zealand, and considering the length of the shipping trip, it is highly likely that that batch of paper was still in its drying process on the boat to NZ.

Raking light photograph of the watermark


Considering the size and the nature of the map (media and construction), it was decided that we would not carry out any aqueous treatment to de-acidify the paper or reduce the foxing spots and other stains.

Because of the width of the map, we put two benches end to end so we could roll and unroll the map as we progressed with the treatments.

Dust and superficial grime have been removed very efficiently. The crumpled tears have been flattened in order to be able to mend it. All the tears and loss areas have been repaired and consolidated using an antique Whatman paper, and a calico lining (cotton textile) on the back. These areas have then been retouched with watercolour in an archival manner.

Dusting with a conservation vacuum cleaner

Before and after dry cleaning

Conservation powder eraser before and after use

Before and after vacuuming


Tracing of the losses

Antique paper piece made after the tracing of the loss

Sticking down the loose canvas and reattaching the pink ribbon

Heat spatula applied to reattach the new canvas patches

Retouching with watercolour

Before and after retouching

The map is now ready to return to the Auckland Museum for storage and display.

1. T. Fairbanks Harris, M. Fuller, M. Green, Papermaking and the Whatmans, in Papermaking and the Art of Watercolors in Eighteenth-Century Britain, T. Fairbanks Harris ans S. Wilcox, Yale University Press, 2006, p. 83. 
2. Op. Cit., p. 106.

Monday 1 October 2012

Three carte de visite portraits from New Zealand

In New Zealand, it is uncommon to encounter carte de visite portraits of the same person taken about a year apart. Here are three images of the same man which show how the photographer has altered the way he has asked a person to pose in order to reflect his growing maturity. Look at how body language is controlled by the photographer. It shifts from seated shyness to standing authority.

Little analysis has occurred in our photo-history that discusses how 19th century photographers contrasted how their sitters sat or stood. In theatre, we call such arrangements the mise en scène, which describes the situation of a planned event, what the surrounding scenery is and the properties of the encounter. Good photographers limited the material in their studio to props that looked like they could be from a home while also adding sculptural plinths et alia.

Note how the lighting is uniformly from the left, which to my way of thinking suggests a north facing side window rather than a top light. It is obvious that the earliest image of the seated young man is taken at other premises. With the silk bookmark, I wonder whether the book he holds is not a Holy Bible. Certainly, the double ink well suggests that he is a student. From all of his attire it is obvious that he comes from a family of means.