By Guy Somerset In Books

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12th December, 2009 Leave a Comment

ART AT TE PAPA, edited by William McAloon (Te Papa, $130). It was the year of the art book and this one bringing together more than 400 works from the national collection was among the first to appear. It’s a grand production: bigger and better bound than many (and more expensive, too). The introduction by McAloon, Te Papa’s curator of New Zealand historical art, and the contributors’ essays accompanying each work are learned and engaging, with McAloon surveying the unruly growth of the collection and not afraid to air some of the criticism of its decade at Te Papa. The book will only fuel one aspect of that criticism: so much art, international and local, and so little of it to be seen on the walls.

ART THAT MOVES: THE WORK OF LEN LYE, by Roger Horrocks (AUP, $59.99); LEN LYE, edited by Tyler Cann and Wystan Curnow (Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Foundation, $75). As well as being the year of the art book, it was the year of Len Lye, with exhibitions, including the biggest retrospective of his work to date at Melbourne’s Australian Centre for the Moving Image, and three books (the other was the $250 limited-edition Horrocks-edited Body English: Text & Images by Len Lye from Holloway Press). The exhibition currently at Auckland’s Gus Fisher Gallery accompanies Art That Moves, in which Horrocks follows his 2001 Len Lye: A Biography with a closer look at the artist’s work and obsession with “the mystery of motion”. It includes a DVD of Lye films and sculptures. Meanwhile, the larger-format Len Lye was published to coincide with the Melbourne exhibition, of which Cann was one of the curators. It expands considerably the range of images of Lye’s work, and features perspectives on his work in essays by Cann and Curnow and contributors such as Guy Brett and the inevitable Horrocks again.

BILL CULBERT: MAKING LIGHT WORK, by Ian Wedde (AUP, $59.99). Stacked to the gunwales with more than 400 images, this is a phenomenal production, written with dexterity, sensitivity and formidable archival industry. In Culbert’s art, Wedde has found one of those bodies of thought/work that offer, to borrow a phrase from Walter Benjamin, “a sufficient head of water for the critic to install a power station on them”. He presents the artist’s oeuvre – and his very busy life – as yet another kind of electrical circuit. Herein we see some of the wiring behind the walls, the circuitry beyond the visible wiring that Culbert so likes us to see.

DICK FRIZZELL – THE PAINTER, by Dick Frizzell, with foreword by Hamish Keith (Godwit, $75). The Phantom, the grocer with a moko, the roadside fruit-and-vegetable stall signs, Ches and Dale – these subjects instantly identify themselves as being by Frizzell, yet it is the easy accessibility of his work that he is most criticised for. This handsomely produced volume showcases the qualities that make his paintings so satisfying: the wit, the intelligence, the mischievousness and, most of all, the notion that every artwork should be an adventure. The images are accompanied by an engagingly stream-of-consciousness text that chronicles, among other things, an epiphany triggered by a tin of mackerel.

MARTI FRIEDLANDER, by Leonard Bell (AUP, $75). Friedlander thought she “fell off the edge of the world” when she arrived in New Zealand as a new bride in 1958, and that sense of being an outsider looking in has informed her work ever since. Friedlander was interested in the unsung lives of ordinary people, but half a century on her body of work is a revealing chronicle of a way of life now so far away from us that it seems almost exotic. Although this isn’t a biography, Bell’s thoughtful, illuminating text contains close readings of the images, tells the stories behind them and puts Friedlander’s work in context.

MRKUSICH: THE ART OF TRANSFORMATION, by Alan Wright and Edward Hanfling (AUP, $99.99). Now in his eighties, Mrkusich has spent a lifetime exploring the subtle complications and mysterious pleasures of abstract painting. Yet little of substance has been written about his art, and few books have reproduced more than a handful of his works in colour. Until now. This splendid book reveals Mrkusich’s inventiveness: his patient, probing investigation of the infinite possibilities of line, shape, surface, space, and above all colour.

REAL ART ROADSHOW: THE BOOK (Craig Potton, $80). The Real Art Roadshow takes postwar New Zealand art to secondary schools around the country in a couple of articulated trucks and is, without doubt, a very good thing. Fiona Campbell, the philanthropist behind the venture, has just won the Supreme Award in the National Business Review‘s Sponsorship of the Arts Awards. This book originated as resource material for schools, but the Real Art Charitable Trust rightly thought the artworks and accompanying essays by leading critics deserved a wider audience. The art is given generous full-page display with the highest-possible production values, and the essays are accessible to all. Proceeds go to the trust.

SEEN THIS CENTURY: 100 CONTEMPORARY NEW ZEALAND ARTISTS – A COLLECTOR’S GUIDE, by Warwick Brown (Godwit, $55). If after Real Art Roadshow you want to venture further into the contemporary art world, this is the book for you. It is both the perfect primer for the novice (whether a collector or someone planning to keep their wallet in their pocket) and a rare one-stop visual resource for those already familiar with the breadth of talent out there. And although small-format for an art book, it’s so well designed you never even notice.

SÉRAPHINE PICK, by Felicity Milburn, Lara Strongman et al (Christchurch Art Gallery, $79.99).** Christchurch Art Gallery won the Best Book Award at the 2008 BPANZ Book Design Awards for its last big art book, Bill Hammond: Jingle Jangle Morning, and can surely expect similar accolades for this. Designer Aaron Beehre once again does everything just right – never detracting from Pick’s artworks, always serving them to the full. Published to accompany the gallery’s just-finished Pick retrospective (now headed for City Gallery Wellington), the book brings together works from all periods of the painter’s career, many in double-page spreads, alongside essays (curator Felicity Milburn’s introductory one is a lesson in clear elucidation) and an interview by Listener contributor Sally Blundell.

12th December, 2009 Leave a Comment

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