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Credo and Quest: Religion & Spirituality in NZ Art


Credo and Quest –a selective survey of
Religion and Spirituality in New Zealand Art

Curated by Scott Pothan

15TH November 2010 – 7th January 2011
To be opened by
Professor Paul Morris,
Religious Studies, Victoria university.

The exhibition will be blessed by
Ven. Geshe Sangey Thinley
Jam Tse Dhargyey Ling Buddhist centre, Whangarei 15th November 2010 at 5pm.

Art and religion have been intertwined since the first glimmerings of human history but in New Zealand - somehow despite our Missionary colonialist connections, any major survey of the visual arts in this genre has been entirely minimal.

Within such a breadth of subject perhaps most curators have been intimidated to touch a deeply emotive and controversial subject. Several key artworks in the Whangarei Art Museum collection have become a touchstone to inspire this selective survey of how artists have evolved a response to the spiritual realm from the early 20th Century to today. From Charles F. Goldie to Max Gimblett and Whangarei artist Starr Gossage this is a brave, luminous, and at times very controversial exploration of how artists have responded and dissected Faith in their art.

From traditional Christian imagery to the Maori spiritual renaissance of the 1950s of which the Northern Maori Project was a partial catalyst, this substantial exhibition explores a series of contiguous thematic groups of works throughout; from Greek Mythology to Maori Spirituality, as well as Buddhism, Baha’i and Hindu. Each of the artists involved reflect a new Aotearoa emerging from the monoculture of early Missionary values towards a new inclusive Christianity and a nation of many religions.

There are truly ethereal works in this show from Reuben Paterson’s shimmering glitter and light installation In Your Own Time Tane (2003) to David Trubridge’s most recent luminous floating light installation Icarus Hanging Lamp.

A pivotal work will be a ‘homecoming journey’ for Colin McCahon’s ‘Venus and Re-entry: The Bleeding Heart of Jesus is Seen Above Ahipara” (1970-71), Te Manawa Museums Trust.

The exhibition is almost a Hollywood Biblical blockbuster! – with a stellar cast list of New Zealand artists. Among the celebrity list of New Zealand’s art elite are two powerful paintings by Philip Clairmont which have never been shown publically in his lifetime or since.

The exhibition also includes major works by Tony Fomison, Colin McCahon, Michael Illingworth, Edward Bullmore and Kura Waru Te Rewiri, Jeffrey Harris, Robert Ellis and Robin White and includes photography; ceramics; painting; installation and moving image; sculpture and lightbox works and printmaking.

It has been said that Art Museums are the new urban cathedrals of the 21st century. This is an exhibition with gravitas, wit and disturbing angst as… ‘‘…we have grown accustomed to associating the rise of the museum with the decline of organised religion as a source of individual meaning and social cohesion. Art and culture have become new sources of spirituality in the West…art museums are the cathedrals of our time.’ (Andrew McClellan, (2002), From Boullee to Bilbao (in ref to the publication Cathedrals of Urban Modernity: The 1st Museums of Contemporary Art 1800-1930 published in 1999) Other artists include, Ralph Hotere, Edward Bullmore, Buck Nin, Sandy Adsett, Alexis Hunter, Darcy Nicholas, Julia Morrison, Anna Starr, Matt Couper, Prakash Patel, Anne Nobel, Shigeyuki Kihara, Margaret Thompson, May Smith, Jeffery Harris, Nigel Brown, Tony Lane, Garth Tapper, David Sarich, Shariar Asdollah-Zadeh, John Reynolds, Janet Green and Jin Ling.

Scheduled for November 2010 to January 2011 the exhibition coincides with Christmas and other religious celebrations and focuses on iconoclastic imagery and exploration of the metaphysical in New Zealand art in the early 20th – 21st centuries.

“[N]o one can stand unmoved in these solitudes, without feeling that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body.” (Charles Darwin 1866 HMS Beagle in the Pacific) Research today into the neurology and genetics of spirituality and religion are among the bravest frontiers of new scientific navigation. New Zealand artists and theologians like Lloyd Geering and Prof. Paul Morris have led the way for many years. Much like human sexuality the subject is fraught with almost rabid sensitivities and embedded cultural values. Yet artists have long been at the forefront of questioning of Faith by interrogating and dissecting personal and collective values – on the quest for what it is to lead a fully realised and fulfilling human life.

Our dual and rather paradoxical history as a colonial nation has evolved from the ‘unholy’ escapees of late Georgian and Victorian society; the whalers and flax-traders who made Kororareka the ‘hellhole’ of the Pacific; and the London Missionary Society whose stoic values still pervade contemporary kiwi’s sense of self. Our art history of the past 200 years has also reflected this polarity of perspective. Artists have long sought the elusive path between creative genius/ego and an existential awareness/empathy.

Unbeknown to most for too long, an almost seamless integration of daily life, art and spirituality had existed in Aotearoa for a thousand years already!

Many contemporary artists in Aotearoa/New Zealand have evolved a more inclusive spirituality in their work reflecting the new neurological and psychological research, just as their predecessors anguished over Darwin, Jung and Freud. From Colin McCahon to Lois White, Adele Younghusband and Rita Angus this was also mixed with deep-seated concerns for the horror of two World Wars.

For others like Tony Fomison, Philip Clairmont, Michael Illingworth and Max Gimblett there were new social realms and religions to impact on their work.

These stories revolve around some key loans from Waikato Museum, Auckland Art Gallery, the University of Auckland collection and Te Manawa, Tauranga Art Gallery, Rotorua Museum and the art museum’s own collection as well as corporate loans from Fletcher Trust, Rutherford Trust, The Wallace Trust and artist collections and private lenders.

Disclaimer: Some content portrayed in the artworks maybe religiously controversial


Colour Sponsors: Porters Original Paints proudly supports the Whangarei Art Museum and supplied the exhibition palette to reflect a Cardinal Red and (Buddhist Robe) Yellow Ochre.


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