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Pacific Times Tables: Auckland Art Fair Projects

Monday, May 23, 2016

Jarrod Rawlins and Simon Rees ponder the value and attraction of art fairs and how they contribute to making the world’s best cities even better. 

Art fairs are multiplicators. They increase the art sector’s capacity for supporting its most important players, artists, by expanding the amount of space in any given city available for exhibition making (even for a few days), and by increasing the participating artists’ exposure to commercial sales. As Billy Apple ® so deftly put it in one of his most magnanimous text works, “The artist has to live like everybody else.”

Simultaneously, art fairs support a broader network of professionals who embody the art sector in different ways. The most obvious qua Apple is pecuniary. More tentative is the way the spectacularity of fairs reaches new audiences, especially when they are held in atypical settings, such as a ‘tent’ situated on a harbour, as is the case with Auckland (as well as Frieze New York). Art is encouraged to take its rightful place in the entertainment complex – something to be done in leisure time and on evenings and at the weekend. (You’ll never hear Woody Allen or Martin Scorsese bag such an idea.They advocate that their films can be good fun and still have a higher purpose). Just like a football game channels its crowds down streets neighbouring a stadium and sometimes sweeps ambiguous onlookers into its thrall, a fair can do the same.

Importantly, art fairs increase the geographic footprint of what’s on show in a city, producing unexpected allegory and enjambment of local work and that from elsewhere, and stimulating similar effects socially. The professionals who make fairs – artists, curators, gallerists, patrons – get to work in expanded architectonic contexts that are different to their studios, art schools, museums, galleries. And, given that they’re only brief affairs, art fairs may take risks in their endeavours. For all these reasons, all sizeable cities – and especially those striving to be cosmopolitan and/or ‘liveable’ – deserve their own fairs.

Auckland certainly strives. And New Zealand along with it. But where to look for models? This is the question asked by the Projects at this year’s Auckland Art Fair under the title Pacific Real Time. We are encouraging participating artists and speakers to consider antinomies of being Pacific while (still) looking towards the Old World for cultural intelligence. People who live in the antipodes find themselves living in a double-bind: hankering after cosmopolitan living – dreaming of being more driven and more connected – while embracing the ebb and flow of a maritime lifestyle. (Remember this art fair is on the water’s edge. Through the venue’s windows you can watch ships and pleasure-craft sail right by.)

Strangely, from this perspective, the two cities that constantly best the Mercer Quality of Living ratings happen to be landlocked and European: Vienna and Zurich. Neither of them has a noteworthy art fair. This is understandable in the case of Zurich, since it is a mere hour by train from Basel (home of the world’s largest such fair, Art Basel), and since it strives with Berlin, London, and New York to be the ur-capital of the commercial art world. Vienna’s lack of a high-functioning fair (despite years of trying) is more surprising. No water’s edge, and no art fair. Yet the city has for seven years topped the charts. Strange. Maybe, in the digital age when being is elsewhere, people are happy with their screensaver of the water and podcast from the fair. Being there hardly matters and everyone is Pacific.

Testing her identity against her European heritage is all strangeness for Kathy Temin. Much of her recent work has charted the course of her family’s fate through the holocaust – playing from Australia to Europe and back again. The section of The Memorial Project: Black Wall included in the Projects is a thicket of faux-fur (made in Auckland last year) that in its black colouring is as threatening as its tactility is comforting. Temin, who has often fashioned soft-furnished crawlspaces, posits New Zealand as a safe haven for European émigrés. In coming here they are surely alive, though – like the artist – they are destined to perpetually cast their minds back to where they came from, forever displaced.

Grant Stevens’ Sky (2016) plays with displacement too, lifting the viewer up among the clouds. The work evokes the liberation of international air travel, as well as the fantasy of flight unencumbered by the armour of the plane. It also brings to mind cloud storage, especially when considered in the context of the artist’s earlier works based on texts from the internet. Bronwyn Holloway-Smith will transport visitors back to the start of the information age in New Zealand. The artist has been working for some time restoring and digitising Te Ika-a-Maui (1961), a tiled mural created by E. Mervyn Taylor to mark the completion of the Tasman leg of the Commonwealth Pacific Cable. This paved the way for the Southern Cross Cable, Aotearoa’s primary internet connection to the wider world.

New Zealand-born, Los Angeles-based artist Fiona Connor’s old skool Community Notice Board (Silverdale) (2015) will add a grungier kind of nostalgia. So will stacks of 1980s and ’90s televisions displaying the latest in local video art, supplied by CIRCUIT Artist Film and Video Aotearoa New Zealand. Grounded. Perhaps the sculptural nature of the TVs will carry some collectors over-the-line, getting them to buy some moving image art (they buy the stuff in Zurich, don’t they?) – then the Projects’ work would truly be done.

Other artists included in the Auckland Art Fair Projects are Michael Parekowhai, Quishile Charan, Cerith Wyn Evans, Wayne Youle, and Terror Management. Auckland Art Fair at The Cloud, 25–29 May, artfair.co.nz. 

Arts News New Zealand are the official media partner for the Projects Programme. 

Image: Grant Stevens, Sky, 2016, courtesy of Starkwhite and the artist.

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