Walters Art Prize contenders 9 Aug 2012
As a small country, contemporary art from New Zealand sometimes isn’t entirely visible on the international stage. This doesn’t mean New Zealand artists aren’t making an impact, as this year’s contenders for the Walters Art Prize show.
The Walters Art Prize, named after Gordon Walters, aims to recognise four exhibitions by New Zealand artists that have taken place over the last two years. These are selected by four jurors, displayed at the Auckland Art Gallery for three months before being judged by an international art figure.
Established in 2002, the Prize has already become significant, and very representative of contemporary New Zealand art. Previous winners include et al., Francis Upritchard and Peter Robinson.
This year, none of the four exhibitions chosen took place in New Zealand. Instead, Simon Denny and Sriwhana Spong exhibited in Australia while Alicia Frankovich and Kate Newby’s shows took place in Germany.
Those in the UK may know Simon Denny from the ICA’s recent Remote Control in London, in which an installation by the artist featured prominently. Denny is originally from Auckland and has taken Berlin as his European base.
Denny’s installation is the most immediately amusing of those on show at the Auckland Art Gallery. It consists of a number of cardboard televisions, the screens displaying instructions on and examples of the employ of logic. The exhibition, which initially took place at Sydney’s Artspace, referenced Denny’s own university education in philosophy and created an inventory of Artspace’s audiovisual equipment, brought together in the frame of a fictional educational video.
Alicia Frankovich, from Tauranga, also lives and works in Berlin. The piece under consideration for the Walters Art Prize is a performance piece that took place at Habbel Am Ufer in Berlin. In Auckland, it appears as a video and a recreation of the unconventional space used for the performance, which Frankovich created in order to renegotiate relationships between audience and participants.
New Zealanders in Europe are often closer to Frankovich’s work than those living in NZ. In 2012, she has exhibited in Berlin, Paris, Antwerp and Oslo, along with Auckland and Wellington. A number of projects have taken place in the UK over the last few years.
Kate Newby’s Crawl Out Your Window was shown at Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst in Bremen, Germany. Newby herself is based between Auckland, where she completed a Masters at Elam School of Fine Arts in 2007, and New York City.
Crawl Out Your Window appears as if another world has formed within the space of Auckland Art Gallery. The installation itself is simple, but encourages the visitor to notice details, such as colours and textures, and the ways in which these contribute to an overall sense of place.
Along with the 2010 Show in Bremen, Newby has shown in the 2008 Brussels Biennial and across Australia and New Zealand.
The fourth exhibition chosen is Sriwhana Spong’s Fanta Silver and Song, originally shown at Gertrude Contemporary in Melbourne in early 2011. Spong’s work often takes the form of enigmatic collage, which has a strong immediate appeal.
In Fanta Silver and Song, Spong has reimagined sections from a lost Diaghilev ballet, filmed and shown in the gallery alongside silk dyed in fanta, fragments from 1960s ballet books and a white, hoop-like sculpture at the centre of the room. The rooms appear as if the evidence from a modern archaeological site, surgically presented.
New Zealanders living in Europe have had opportunities to see Spong’s work at Paris’s Pompidou Centre in 2011 and at Art Basel and Dublin’s Project Art Space in 2010. She now lives and works in Auckland, where she grew up and studied at Elam.
All the exhibitions in contention for the Walters Art Prize this year are closely linked to the contexts for which they were created. The attempt to reframe such site-specific works at the Auckland Art Gallery isn’t always completely successful, as perhaps one might predict in dealing with works created for particular institutions.
Nonetheless, the display at the Gallery allows visitors in Auckland exposure to four prominent exhibitions of contemporary New Zealand art that took place overseas. With a little effort, visitors can imagine how the installations might have originally operated, and the change in site also allows audiences to evaluate the ways in which works change when recast for new spaces.
The winner of the Walter Art Prize will be announced on October 20th. This year, the local jurors are David Cross, Aaron Kriesler, Kate Montgomery and Gwynneth Porter and the international judge is Mami Kataoka, Chief Curator of Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum.
Anna Blair is a freelance writer and architectural historian studying hotels from the 1920s. She currently divides her time between Paris and East London. Further work can be found at her blog – Dispatches from Europe.
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