Everyday Lines

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15 September-26 November, Hastings City Art Gallery

The spiritual great granddaddy of the selected NZ artists whose works are currently on show at Hastings City Art Gallery is the French artist and cultural provocateur Marcel Duchamp. His bourgeois-baiting exhibition of an everyday object (a porcelain urinal) could neither be considered to properly ‘belong’ to the aesthetic world of art nor even to have been made or ‘crafted’ by the artist; he simply bought it from a plumber, signed it, inverted it, titled it (“Fountain”) and exhibited it to have it jokingly conform to those expected attributes of the traditional art object. How it must have baffled, irritated and enraged those unsuspecting gallery goers in 1917. In one off-hand gesture several trusts had been broken, not to be easily mended.

And now, exactly 100 years later in a provincial gallery half a world away, drawing from a pool of artists operating in a culture where these kinds of repurposed objects and conceptual provocations are commonplace, we have a show that actually fulfils popular expectations of what a contemporary art exhibition will be like.

Of course its still going to enrage some. The usual moan is that such art requires no skill. But if we leave aside for the moment the inverse snobbery that refuses to recognise conceptual skills as valid, there is actually a lot of traditional technical skill in this show to admire –  Martin Selman’s expertly rendered marble sculptures of disposables that sharply interrogate our assumptions of value; John Ward Knox’s exquisitely subtle, almost immaterial  wall carving; Emily Hartley-Skudder’s perfectly poised oil paintings –  plangent, spiritualist, boiled-sweet kitsch that remind us of how deeply we invest in even the most insignificant plastic inanimate. And that, I suppose, is the heart of this show.

Everyday Lines is a beautifully curated and paced exhibition that allows every work to speak in it’s own space, which, as much as this serves to intimate its theme (what we might call The Secret Life of Objects), also realises the creative and physical potential of the Hastings City Art Gallery.

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