The Auckland Art Gallery – Walters Prize 2014

Ferris also went to the gallery on his day off.

Ferris also went to the gallery on his day off


Today I visited the Auckland City Art Gallery (ACAG), mainly to view the Walters Prize finalists.

If you didn’t know, The Walters Prize is probably the most visible and contentious art prize in the land.  Now they’re calling it the ‘toughest’ art prize.

It’s based on the Turner, held each year at the Tate Britain in London. You must know that one.  Think Tracey Emin, think Damien Hirst.  Think Bryan Ferry.  Think Madonna swearing at the live cross.

Both prizes take the work of a living artist from the last 24 months of activity and select that which they deem important, rigorous work that will ultimately speak to notions of what contemporary art is.  One of the great ironies of modern art is people’s aversion to it and critique of it. This all feeds and informs modern art.

The Walters draws huge art-rage from ratepayers, since the artworks are exhibited in the space paid for by the  hard-working citizens of Auckland who rather fancy the idea of infrastructure and public transport services over a gigantic architectural wonder that displays a pile of vagrant effects down a side corridor that the ratepayer nearly trips over thinking it’s a mistake left by the cleaners.

It’s not.  It’s a finalist in the $50,000 Walters.

I was impressed.  The four finalists are our finest contemporary artists, and each has a highly developed and unique approach to art making.

My money is on Simon Denny.  You really have to experience this artwork as I can’t describe it.


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Denny’s work, for me, made me feel serious irritation, which meant that on some level the content and the way the work is displayed, works.  I felt impatient having to file through and past placard-like canvases, each featuring a key modern figure, from the developer of tumblr, to a Britain’s Got Talent finalist.  Like I didn’t have time to do it and was looking to get out as fast as I could. Of course the irony here is that galleries want us to stay for a long time to absorb the art, to soak it up.

Each of the modern figures is depicted in an interview or speech-giving mode, and the overall effect was that I felt like I was at some kind of entrepreneurial roadshow from hell.  Surrounded by successful high-rollers, I couldn’t get through the lanes fast enough and there was no way through it except to keep going.

It is a great artwork.

Denny has been selected to represent New Zealand at the Venice Biennale next year too.  He lives and works in Berlin and it’s common for young New Zealand artists to want to work in a more centralized European art centre.

Next week, I’ll be investigating another entry, the work of Luke Willis Thompson.  I am already obsessed with this work.  The work doesn’t really exist at all.

The gallery visitor must take a taxi-ride to unknown parts.  It takes around 50 minutes.  In the original work, participants were taken to a house and were allowed to walk around, rather voyeuristically before being taken back to the gallery space.  That’s the work.

It’s a no-artwork entry, however the artwork is created along the way, I expect by the viewer becoming more of a participant and creator of the piece.  Call it performance, or whatever.  There’s a bit of Barthes in there perhaps.

The other thing I love about this is its ephemeral quality, and the fact that it can’t be ‘bought’ and displayed as such.  So much of art is about discussing value, which I myself did later on in my visit when I clapped eyes on the wondrous Hotere works in situ.  I said “these would be worth a bit now” and immediately fell deep into the trap of commoditizing art.

Thompson’s work will certainly have a cost attached, but not to the viewer, since the taxi ride is ‘free’.  Must really fuck people off who wonder how the artist can make a living from such a purely conceptual piece.  I doubt he cares.

There are two other entries, equally engaging, equally intriguing to be discussed in later blogs.

Further through my visit I checked into the ye olde faithful Victorian galleries and felt like I was in London – a spectacular collection of mainly European works, plenty of Italian art courtesy of Reni and his school and even some altarpiece works if early Renaissance art is your thing.  Lovely.  Stunning!  Madonna, again.


Mr Companion turning his back on ‘that modern rubbish’.

I am so excited about my mystery taxi ride next week.  Wednesday it will be.  I will attempt to capture some of it somehow within the boundaries of ‘the rules’.

Will I ask the taxi driver his views on the upcoming elections?  Or maybe just ask him if he thinks modern art is rubbish?



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