Visionaries and rascals
A personal exploration of contemporary art convinces that our artists reveal our future. This Model World
t $1.35 million, Colin McCahon’s The Canoe Tainui recently became New Zealand’s most expensive painting.
The eight-panelled work was originally sold for $500, shortly after it was painted by the controversial artist in 1969.
Its recent resale by the heirs of the original owners marked a commercial coming of age for modernist New Zealand art.
In This Model World, arts journalist and critic Anthony Byrt investigates the younger artists of the post-McCahon generation who are creating contemporary New Zealand culture – and, just as frequently, today’s cultural and financial furore.
Centred around interviews and studio visits, This Model World is an engaging mix of artist profiles and personal reaction.
Byrt places his reader in direct engagement with the artists he selects.
It is always revealing. This isn’t abstract criticism.
Byrt begins with the birth of his son in Berlin and the ensuing complications which forced his return to a country in which he had not lived for some time.
The critic clearly situates himself in this re-encounter with the country of his birth.
Byrt’s initial exploration of Yvonne Todd’s staged and creepy photographs of anorexics, synthetic-wigged teenage girls, suited ‘business executives’ and vegans show him at his best.
Todd herself, the archetypal Auckland North Shore girl, is an ideal subject, a ‘committed swearer’, ‘consistent side-tracker’, and sometimes ‘Yvonne Todd’ as opposed to Yvonne Todd.
Byrt is perceptive and droll. This Model World is a book about art without the blurs of jargon.
Shane Cotton is another case in point.
Living in Palmerston North and working in a flood-prone Anthony Byrt Auckland University Press, $45 warehouse, Cotton’s biker-patch paintings have now become emblematic.
Byrt reveals the layers behind Cotton’s work and the struggles of a successful artist to outreach himself.
Cotton’s paintings are defamiliarised and re-presented. It is a skilful critical act.
It is in his discussion of Simon Denny that Byrt reaches his peak.
The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom, in which Denny created replicas for the items and money seized from Kim Dotcom’s home in the infamous New Zealand police raid, was the young artist’s first large-scale provocation.
Denny’s subsequent selection as New Zealand’s representative artist for the Venice Biennale in 2015 confused many.
However Denny’s consequent Secret Power installations were spectacular and convincing.
Visitors to Venice’s Marco Polo Airport walked across Denny floorings, and web graphics were converted into computer-case icons.
Byrt convincingly makes a case for Denny’s global significance.
This Model World is personal and often autobiographical. It has relevance to us all. In it we discover a New Zealand that seldom makes the headlines, but where artists like Todd, Cotton, Denny and Judy Millar are revealing our future.
Anthony Byrt’s art book has a relevance to all New Zealanders.