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Exhibition of Contemporary NZ Art

Exhibition of Contemporary NZ Art, WCC Atrium, 4-8 March, 9am-6pm.
Review: Lissa Mitchell

Beginning with a bang on Friday night this group exhibition and fundraiser, organised by Brooklyn School, offers an exhibition of works in a disparate range of styles and media. There is stoneware, and a large number of bronzes by various artists including Tanya Ashken. But predominantly the show features works on paper, including photographic collages, etchings and paintings.

Stand out works include Pippa Sanderson's Untitled, a funky painting on hardboard, and John Drawbridge's etchings. Drawbridge's apparent attention and commitment to the etching process is reflected in the quality of these works. These are dark sombre images of classic still life subjects – bottles. Yet in Drawbridge's etchings, of which these are no exception, glass has sharpness and clarity and the high contrast produces a tone of photographic depth and stillness.

Within her complex and decorative canvases, Barbara Strathdee embeds reproductions of images by technically good nineteenth-century operators, such as by Charles Heaphy and various photographic images. These reproductions resemble those careful, but ultimately stiff, tracings one can make against the lounge window. Once a Upon a Time – Girl, Canoe, and Once a Upon a Time – Whalers (featuring a colonial female 'helmsman') are excellent examples in this show. Strathdee's works attend to the notion that history is a story that is written to help us make sense of the present.

However, it is the nature of a fundraiser that the artists have generally not donated more recent work. At this show the dates of a large number of the works begs the question of whether this really is an "Exhibition of Contemporary New Zealand Art". In her opening night address, Wellington historian Judith Ffye commented that such an event made an exciting, and more lucrative, change from the days of cake-stalls. As a late 1990s trend in fundraising these types of events have a context that is worth taking into account. Artists are approached to donate their work, so they will naturally give an older and minor component of a previous series. Therefore as a buyer you are not going to get a key work, chances are higher in buying an unknown.

This kind of event turns on the currency of the names involved, and it offers the artists a chance to become familiar names to a new sector of the community. Brooklyn School's approach is admirable. Unlike similar events the artists are receiving a percentage on the sale of their work. Therefore the School has taken on the role of being a short-term art dealer, albeit the percentage is lower than dealer galleries but the trade-offs for the artists are, I suspect, immensely worthwhile.

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