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Artists pose questions about the subject

Who do you think I am? Artists pose challenging questions about the subject

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L: Daniel du Bern, YOUTH WORK, 2007/8
R: Kahotea Hepi te Heuheu with Nelson Illingworth, 1908

Te Mata: The Ethnological Portrait
The Subject Now

26 July – 5 October 2008

The Adam Art Gallery is pleased to present two exhibitions that take on new approaches to the history of portraiture and chart changing perspectives in how we represent ourselves
––Te Mata: The Ethnological Portrait and The Subject Now.

The distinctive tradition of Maori portraiture that flourished at the turn of the twentieth century is the focus of Te Mata: The Ethnological Portrait.

Curator Roger Blackley, Senior Lecturer in Art History at Victoria University of Wellington, brings together paintings, photographs and sculptures which combine an ambition to describe an ideal ethnic type with the realities of individual depiction.

At the heart of the show is a remarkable series of eight portrait busts by sculptor Nelson Illingworth commissioned in 1908 by the Dominion Museum, Wellington.

Never cast in bronze as originally intended, the fragile plaster objects miraculously survive in the collections of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and are exhibited together for the first time, displayed alongside paintings by Charles Goldie and others.

Blackley argues that Illingworth’s idealised busts do not only serve the purposes proposed by the museum to define Maori as an ethnic category because they can also be thought about from the perspective of their subjects.

“For example, the venerable Patara Te Tuhi, a visitor to museums and stately homes in England, and the subject of many portraits, had a very clear idea of the European portrait tradition,” he says.

The Subject Now brings together nine artists working in different locations who ask the perennial question ‘who am I?’, but offer new answers to this age-old question. Curator Christina Barton, Director of the Adam Art Gallery, believes that these artists all turn to the idea that the self is not someone with innate qualities, but gains a sense of themselves in relation to others.

“These artists suggest that we are not freewheeling individuals”, Barton says, “but rather we are constantly forming a sense of ourselves in relation to people around us”.

This exhibition offers a new ‘take’ on how we represent ourselves. Working mainly with photography and video these artists recognise the ever-present role of these media today, and offer a timely set of responses that map the terrain of contemporary experience for viewers to negotiate.

This is an ambitious project that showcases artists who are drawing attention in the international art world, some of whom have never before been seen in New Zealand, and who are making innovative use of their media and offering poignant commentary on their situations.

Artists in The Subject Now are: Halil Altindere (Turkey), Willie Doherty (Ireland), Daniel du Bern (NZ/UK), et al. (NZ), Terrence Handscomb (NZ/USA), Hye Rim Lee (NZ/US/South Korea), Aernout Mik (Netherlands), Markéta Othová (Czech Republic) and Kan Xuan (China).

The exhibitions will be accompanied by a programme of talks, forums and a workshop that will expand on the artistic, theoretical and political implications of each exhibition. This programme begins with an exhibition floor talk by curators Christina Barton and Roger Blackley on Saturday 26 July at 2pm. All welcome.

Friday 25 July, 5.30-8pm

Friday 25 July, Mighty Mighty, 104 Cuba Street, 8pm – late
Featuring Crystal Beauty: Electro Doll, Hye Rim Lee with Jed Town


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