Get the picture: New season of exhibitions at Te Papa Tongarewa: Museum of New Zealand

Tivaevae: Out of the Glory Box – Celebrates the art of Cook Islands quilting through Te Papa’s significant collection of tivaevae

Splash! Four Contemporary New Zealand Paintings – Showcases work by Gretchen Albrecht, Andrew Barber, Fiona Conner and Allen Maddox

Two Artists: Emily Karaka & Shona Rapira Davies – profiles the work and legacy of two senior Maori artists who opened space for Maori women art makers in the 1980s

Te Ao Hou: Modern Maori Art – Maori art of the 1950s and 1960s that combined international and indigenous ideas and styles

The Gallery of Helen Hitchings – introduces the glamorous taste-maker Helen Hitchings and her ground-breaking gallery of modern art and design

New Visions, New Zealand – a fresh look at modern New Zealand painting through the eyes of a generation of highly imaginative female artists

Reviewed by David Famularo

 I’m of the belief that New Zealand’s twentieth art will become increasing appreciated in time. It has largely been under-valued because, understandably, New Zealand never produced leaders in any of that century’s at movements, at least among the artists living in this country.

But there comes a time when you have seen the umpteenth book on Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky et al, and you are, frankly, bored. Not by the quality of the work, but simply because you have seen it before.

When you start ferreting through the vaults for some fresh surprises. And you stop looking at the art and artists through an art historical timeline. You just want to appreciate work for what it is. It’s a case of revisiting and revisionism. Just like how people are rediscovering overlooked musical gems from the 1960s.

For this group of shows, it seems Te Papa has gone through its vaults to display paintings that are rarely seen. By the end of my tour of the gallery, I had re-evaluated my opinion of a number of artists for the better and come to believe even more firmly in the quality, originality and freshness (especially in the antipodean colours) of New Zealand’s best art and artists.

Tivaevae tataura (appliqué embroidered quilt)

Tivaevae tataura (appliqué embroidered quilt)

“Tivaevae: Out of the Glory Box” is a stunning collection of Cook Island tivaevae. The accompanying short video manages to encapsulate the spirit and philosophy of this communal art form. As one of the women says, the amount of work a person puts into a tivaevae shows how much they love the person who they are giving it to.

Each tivaevae is made by a group of women, which require consensus but I expect would tend to work in favour of traditional designs rather than originality. Despite this, the tivaevae on display are quite different to each other.

I found the technique of hand sewing pieces of cut out material on to a “canvas” of a large rectangular sheet of material simple but effective and very exciting. You can see all the works at http://arts.tepapa.govt.nz/on-the-wall/tivaevae-out-of-the-glory-box

Allen Maddox [1948-2000] Wanker 1979

Allen Maddox [1948-2000] Wanker 1979

“Tivaevae” and the nearby exhibitions “Two Artists: Emily Karaka & Shona Rapira Davies” and “Splash! Four Contemporary New Zealand Paintings” are a reminder of the visual impact that a large art work can have.

I’m not always enamoured of Karaka’s work but her large works in this show are probably the best I have seen. You can see them at http://arts.tepapa.govt.nz/on-the-wall/two-artists-emily-karaka-and-shona-rapira-davies

I felt the same about the abstract expressionist work using cross motifs of Allen Maddox, and Gretchen Albrecht’s calling card, a semi-circular abstract – but this time extremely large – in “Splash.” You can see all four works at http://arts.tepapa.govt.nz/on-the-wall/splash-four-contemporary-new-zealand-paintings

While “Te Ao Hou: Modern Maori Art”, “New Visions, New Zealand” and “The Gallery of Helen Hitchings” all have different themes, the element that joins them all almost seamlessly together is the influence of Modernism on a group of New Zealand artists who were mostly at their creative peak in the mid-twentieth century.

Gordon Walters is represented in “Te Ao Hou” not by one of his signature koru designs, but a semi-abstract figure that seems to be a Modernist interpretation of early Maori rock drawings, which I usually associate with Theo Schoon.

Dennis Knight Turner[1924-2011] Untitled (fish and figures) 1952

Dennis Knight Turner[1924-2011] Untitled (fish and figures) 1952

Dennis Knight Turner’s Untitled Fish & Figures from 1952 has a most delicious palette of that era. You can see all the works at http://arts.tepapa.govt.nz/on-the-wall/te-ao-hou-modern-maori-art

“The Gallery of Helen Hitchings” is the perfect introduction to this fascinating woman and her influential but short lived gallery, the first modern art-dealer gallery in New Zealand which opened in 1949.

Despite a full half century having passed since the Modernist aesthetic emerged in Europe, Hitching and her gallery would still have felt like out of place in the New Zealand culture of the time.

Bristow Mawley [1934-circa 1965] Portrait of Helen Hitchings circa 1950

Bristow Mawley [1934-circa 1965] Portrait of Helen Hitchings circa 1950

There’s a lovely 1950 portrait of Hitching by Bristow Mawley and another photo of her holding a sculptured cat by Ernest Mervyn Taylor which is actually in this exhibition as well.

Also in the exhibition is a psychologically perceptive painting of Hitching by Rita Angus which you can see with the other works at http://arts.tepapa.govt.nz/on-the-wall/the-gallery-of-helen-hitchings

A Still Life with Arum Lillies by Louise Henderson is beautifully painted, and together with Henderson’s 1953 painting “Les deux amies (The two friends)” in “New Visions, New Zealand,” has forced me to re-evaluate Henderson’s talents upward.

A.Lois White [1903-1984] Elijah Taken Up Into Heaven 1948

A.Lois White [1903-1984] Elijah Taken Up Into Heaven 1948

Someone I have always had all the time in the world for A. Lois White. This is the first time I have seen, in person, the three works of hers in this show which left me even more impressed with her skills with colour, almost Venetian Renaissance richness.

One work made me curious because it appeared from an angle to be under glass but when you looked up close it wasn’t. It turned out it was a varnished water colour which gave a wonderful effect.

The 1945 Rita Angus work “Figure Allegory” is an intriguing portrait in the way that it gives clues to the psychological state of the sitter by the use of accompanying visual metaphors.

Arbutus berries, 1936, by Rata A. Lovell-Smith [1894-1969] is a fairly simple but charmingly painted work that shows her talents as a Post Impressionist. The same can be said of Helen Stewart’s Portrait of a Women in Red from the same decade. You can see the entire collection at http://arts.tepapa.govt.nz/on-the-wall/new-visions-new-zealand