12 July 2008

Telling it like it is

So I went along to check out the Rita Angus show yesterday arvo. I'd had high hopes for it but was bitterly disappointed. Part of it may be the way it was put together. There was far too much work in there, and far too much mediocre and bad work in particular. But that's not it – I can't just blame the curators. I was forced to come to an uncomfortable conclusion about Rita herself, and about New Zealand art in general.

What I like about Rita Angus is her non-compromising attitude to art. She took making art very seriously, and at the same time had some fun with it. She made work for herself. That's what we like to see. And if you never make unsuccessful work, you're obviously not pushing yourself – just mindlessly repeating a successful formula. But to have a survey of your life's work where there's barely a handful of good works? That's not good. You're a minor artist.

Let's face it. New Zealand art history is not very critical. It puts people up on pedestals and then genuflects towards them forevermore. Colin McCahon is a case in point. Most of his work is shit. Those cubist landscapes? How can you possibly take them seriously? Those stupid word paintings!?!

There are too many received ideas uncritically accepted in this country. Someone needs to put the boot in, tear down the idols. We have a very conservative, conformist culture. People don't like to rock the boat, especially in public and especially under their own name. Bollocks to that.

The art scene here is far too cosy – a nice comfy chair and cup of milky milo. Stop worrying about what other people think. Stand on your own two feet and drink strong black coffee instead, and maybe our art history will end up with more than a few good works scattered sporadically through it.

Some of us are trying to make good work, rather than make a career. What we need are critics and art historians to keep us on our toes.

9 comments:

artandmylife said...

I knew it was a mistake to give up coffee (a strong long black for me) for tea :-)

David Cauchi said...

Ah, but it all depends on the tea! As long as it's not adulterated with milk and sugar, you should be all right.

artandmylife said...

I guess Russian Caravan would be ok then? (The Laphroaig of tea)

David Cauchi said...

Yeah man, good old Russian Caravan. No messing around.

No. 0003 said...

Even while driinkinf Laphroag tea things get pretty costy?

Jacksmate said...

What would you rather have seen? I agree that NZ art is rather cosy - perhaps to do with those that formulated our art history still sitting about spouting wonderful lines that maintain their position. But how can you redefine 'good work' when the careers of art historians and critics are built on the foundations of that which we now are made to revere?

Just a little question!!!

David Cauchi said...

What would I have rather seen!? I'd've rather seen some good fucking work. She did good portraits, but a lot of them were shit. The fucking landscapes were horrible, and for the fucking experimental work!?! I've done a lot of mushrooms, and it still looked like crap.

Don't get me wrong. She is important. She had good ideas. But she did a lot of shit, and someone needs to say it. Fucking 'much-loved artist' bullshit. Fucking NZ art history bullshit. That Cantab scene was crap. Her landscapes were really bad. Her experiments worse.

She did do some good stuff, but it was far and few between. The thing is no-oner in NZ art history has done anything half-way decent, except for perhaps Gordon Walters. And that's a perhaps.

The scene is cosy man. It's bad. Why would you want to join that club?

I want critical art historians to tell me when I'm doing shit. There's no chance of that at the moment. Same with everyone else (and, yes, that's extensive).

At least the anonymous cunt hassling me about the fly had a point to come from. They didn't get what I was about - doing the same sentence in different forms - but at least they tried! Come on, maybe I'm wrong.

Get fucking critical! Don't take received ideas as read. Fucking hell, what is it with the people around here!?!

Okay, drunken rant over.

David Cauchi said...

Incoherent drunken rant.

Robyn said...

I went to the Rita Angus exhibition a week ago. I enjoyed it, but I also felt that there was too much there. It was like they just kept filling the exhibition space until all the wall were covered.

The exhibition seemed to have a really strong autobiographical and chronological focus, which isn't necessary a bad thing, but it just meant a couple of crap sections of too much of her early stuff when she was finding her feet.

What I thought was most telling was the range of merchandise in the Te Papa gift shop. Among the postcards and posters were a range of t-shirts, a scarf, a tote bag, printed not with images from her paintings on them, but with quoted text from Angus's letters.

She's a painter, not a poet. I think the exhibition curators forgot that.

visitors since 29 March 2004.