Vi­sion­ar­ies and ras­cals

A per­sonal ex­plo­ration of con­tem­po­rary art con­vinces that our artists re­veal our fu­ture. This Model World

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - BOOKS REVIEWS -



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.

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