The Unmissables: Three Artworks to See in June
A monthly round-up of artworks from the dealer gallers of Tāmaki Makaurau that we keep returning to.
This month's Unmissables has us float down from the sky, to and through the earth, to land gently in the sea; a soft reminder to sit back and soak in your surroundings (and some calming artworks) when it all feels overwhelming.
This month, our team of art critics, Lana Lopesi, Francis McWhannell and Cameron Ah Loo-Matamua, have trawled the streets of Auckland to showcase some of Aotearoa’s most exciting artists.
I remember first coming across Jae Hoon Lee (b.1973) in my first year of art school. At the time his work hung in the third gallery space on the first floor of the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. The work was a digitally enhanced photograph of hyper-real clouds, a style Lee is renowned for. The artist grew up in Seoul and later emigrated in 1993 to study at the San Francisco Art Institute. He took another leap after that, this time to Aotearoa where he gained an MFA at Elam School of Fine Arts (2001), followed by a DocFA (2012).
Jae Hoon Lee’s latest exhibition Tilting the Horizon is on now at Visions (formerly Bowerbank Ninow). The work Sunset – Whanganui is one of many in the show made while Lee was on the 2019-20 Tylee Cottage Residency awarded by the Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui. Using drones, Lee captured images from the Whanganui region as well are constructing his own images entirely. With the pinks of dusk pulled across the photo, Sunset – Whanganui and its digitally abstracted clouds takes me back to that first encounter with Lee’s work. All the magic still ever-present. –LL
Tilting the Horizon
Jae Hoon Lee
9 June – 11 July, 2020
It’s not often that an email gets me. I’m so flooded with gallery missives that I barely see them anymore. But when I received the notice for He Māra Oranga by Aroha Gossage (Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Ruanui), I knew I had my next ‘Unmissable’. I’m a fan of the family. I grew up with the dazzling felt-tip Māui of Aroha’s father, Peter. I adore the expressive paintings of her sister, Star. Both women tend to direct their artistic attention to their hau kāinga of Pakiri. When I think of Aroha, I picture her landscapes of the place: deft, lyrical, and restive, all morning mist and evening glow.
He Māra Oranga (the title can be translated as ‘life-sustaining garden’) sees the artist focus more squarely on figures. She works with translucent washes of oil and kōkōwai, sometimes including sparse, scratchy lines of graphite, a bit like those used by Joanna Margaret Paul. Most of the pictures show members of Gossage’s whānau gardening (one memorable piece is of a bodily bundle of kūmara, which reminds me rather of the double meaning of ‘whenua’). However, they do not feel like records of particular events, so much as expressions of ways of being and doing through time.
In Mother’s Garden (2020), we see a woman from behind, white singlet, long pink skirt, standing amid a plethora of lofty sunflowers. The stems bow under the weight of their heads and, one suspects, the heat of the day. As with the figures in other paintings, the woman is hazy. Perhaps the sun is playing games, making her appear to dissolve, as it is no doubt doing with the enveloping field. Perhaps she is not a fixture of a tangible here and now at all, but instead a visitor from another moment. Or simply someone who never left. - FM
He Māra Oranga
9 June–3 July 2020
“Tai timu, tai pari...” “Ebbing tide, flowing tide...” reads the beginning lines of a short waiata chalked on the walls of Mokopōpaki’s Brown Room. The lyrics are reproduced in flossy pink by artists Dr Maureen Lander MNZM and Denise Batchelor, whose recent work has culminated in an exhibition titled ‘Ebb.’ The presentation hosts a wellspring of marine life–replete with wordy references as disparate as Shakespeare, the book of Hāmuera, and Edith Piaf–and at points adjusts its focus onto the global climate crisis, as illuminated by the appearance of rapidly increasing jellyfish populations. They are both a “tohu and a taonga,” as Lander notes. She fashions their likeness out of materials such as plastic shower caps, bubble wrap and blush-stained muka (the prepared fibre produced from harakeke, or flax), and buoys them up in their own web of what is perhaps fishing line. The presence of plastic is as ironically playful as it is a show of mourning for our shared world ecologies.
As the world became amused with the sudden animal repopulation of Venice’s waterways through lockdown, Karangahape Rd found a canal of its own too. The street-facing window space becomes a Sidewalk Aquarium as the gallery phrases it, displaying an impressive collection of seaweed sourced by Batchelor from the shorelines of Omapere (an area on the southern side of the Hokianga) and more of Lander’s tactile jellyfish 'fluthers'. But for all of the show's signalling of human intervention on nature, it hardly dips into melancholy. It’s all that pink and talk of love. La Vie en Rose: Life in Pink (2020), the only two-part work credited as a partnership between the artists, is another joyful addition to Mokopōpaki’s shower cubicle commissions. It is a funny work, heartening even, and is representative of the transformative magic art can have on those who come into conversation with it. All of the world's worries, and all of its triumphs too, can wash away when met by a simple declaration of love. - CALM
Maureen Lander and Denise Batchelor
3 June - 4 July
The Unmissables is presented in a partnership with the New Zealand Contemporary Art Trust, which covers the cost of paying our writers. We retain all editorial control.
Feature image: Whānau, Aroha Gossage