Art & Culture

Central Planning: On Two Colourful Townhouses in Christchurch [Here Magazine essay] This is one architect-couple’s contribution to New Zealand’s housing stock, done in a mindful and generous way. They show that what’s good for one’s own housing prospects can also be generous to tenants, neighbours and to the city.

Building it up just to tear it down [Newsroom essay] An essay of mine on NZ’s utopian affordable housing projects of the 1950s, like the Gordon Wilson Flats in Wellington and the Star Flats in Auckland. Why are we now demolishing these buildings? And will what we build to replace them actually be any better?

Architectural Fun: The Parliamentary Playspace by Studio Pacific A playground at Parliament was always going to be a difficult proposition, from a design standpoint. The idea conjures brightly-coloured plastic and rubber chip mats smelling as they deteriorate in the summer heat.

Antipodeanism: The Architecture of Lightness in Australia and New Zealand Japanese-Scandinavian design affinities have been well explored, but the triumvirate of Japanese-Nordic-Antipodean design hasn’t yet, to my knowledge. How to define Antipodeanism in architecture?

Giovanni Mardersteig and the Officina Bodoni At the Alexander Turnbull Library, I saw some books printed by a man who has been called “The last of the great classic printers.”

An Elegant Shed in Marlborough: The Axe House by Stuart Gardyne [HOME Magazine] When a house is to be inhabited lightly, as this one is, filled with very few but very beautiful possessions, the architecture has to do extra work—it can’t hide behind paintings or bookshelves or rugs, and must provide texture and personality.

Culture and Wellbeing: Towards a Humanistic Public Policy? It feels as though many of us are grasping towards a humanistic public policy. Here I want to say that culture is itself a language of humanity—something we sorely need when concerned with living standards and human wellbeing.

Modern Architectures in History: A Review of Australia, by Harry Margalit The book is engrossing: a perfect mix of architectural description with discussion of the wider forces in Australian society that contextualises the architecture.

What’s really at stake in book-culling decision An essay of mine originally published on Newsroom, dealing with the National Library of New Zealand’s decision to abandon its international book collections. 

Two Books on Returning to New Zealand “Coming home was the thing; it made you a real New Zealander. You only went away to splash yourself with the heavy cologne of Old Culture before suffocating in it: that’s when you turned back to the bracing fresh air of home.”

How to Make a Book With Steidl: Gutenberg or Aldus Manutius? Gerhard Steidl owns and runs Steidl, a publisher-printer based in Göttingen. Known for his photography books with the work of many of the world’s best photographers, they say that Steidl’s ink is printed so thickly on the page that it’s sculptural.

John Drawbridge: Joyous and International in Spirit Drawbridge’s art stands as one of the best reminders of why the art market is often the worst guide of all to finding the most important and powerful art. For those with eyes of their own, able to look at art without a dealer in their ear or an auction catalogue before them, he has so much to give.

Don Driver: An Ounce of Ambiguity Don Driver occupies a corner of New Zealand’s art history that we haven’t yet come to terms with. Looking at his works it can be easy to forget that he was contemporaneous with McCahon, Angus and Woollaston.

Colin McCahon: An Essay on the Centenary of His Birth The task in writing about McCahon is to be transparent about whether one is speaking of McCahon or “McCahon”—McCahon the painter or “McCahon” the nationalistic idea. I write here on the former.

Gordon Walters Of all the New Zealand artists, Gordon Walters was the most adamant that he be known simply as an “artist”, free from the confines of geography. Yet his koru symbol has become to New Zealand’s visual culture what Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe is to the United States’.

My Borrowings from the Bodleian Libraries, 2018-19 A partial list of my borrowings from the Bodleian Libraries during my year studying for a master’s degree in Oxford, published mostly for my own sake.

Alexander Turnbull and New Zealand’s Library (A Bibliography) I realised I’d made from a distance that old mistake in assuming that because we’re small we wouldn’t have much of value. A bibliography of the collections New Zealand is so lucky to have.

The Harsh Clarity of New Zealand Typography I don’t really believe in “New Zealand art”, or “New Zealand writing”. If it’s good it’s just “art” or “writing” or “a typeface”, and the New Zealandness problem solves itself; New Zealand typographers are doing, and seemingly always have been doing, first-rate work.

Printing and Typography in New Zealand: A Short Bibliography The reading list I wish I’d had when I first began learning about printing, publishing and type in NZ. From Yate, Colenso and Coupland Harding to Kris Sowersby.

The Smell of New Zealand Books There was something more to the smell of their pages than simply the knowledge that they were from home, or that the words they contained were significant to me. They smelled like New Zealand, of specifically what I have come to know New Zealand’s culture to smell like.

Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants, by Mathias Enard What if cultures were not as hermetic as we sometimes imagine them to be? What if the modern foundations of “Western culture” were based, in fact, on influences from the “East”—and vice versa?

“I’ve Lived for So Many Days Now”: Rinus Van de Velde at König Gallery, Berlin  A review of an exhibition in January 2019. It’s testament to how fully Van de Velde constructs these worlds—the coder’s lair, the ambiguous expressions, the literary text beneath the images—that we can be drawn ever more deeply into them.

Reading Charles Brasch in Oxford As I sit here in Oxford, “through long damp grey days”, reading Brasch’s journals and memoirs, Dunedin comes into focus. Dunedin, and all the places and people Brasch visited and wrote of. They become centre and I am living at the margins…

Oceania at the Antipodes A survey of historical international exhibitions of Oceanic/Pacific art. The Royal Academy’s 2018 Oceania exhibition seems not so much a marking of 250 years since Cook “discovered” the Pacific, but of perhaps a decade since Britain and Europe opened their artistic sights on the rest of the world.

Ernst Plischke and the Corners A 1959 flat by Ernst Plischke above the garage of diplomats and art collectors Frank and Lyn Corner seems to expand well beyond its four small walls. (Feature article for Home Magazine New Zealand, published in print, September 2018 issue).

Crabbed Age and Youth Cannot Live Together: On Glenn Gould and the Goldberg Variations Bach’s Goldberg Variations reflect the nature of a human life, and Glenn Gould’s gift was to understand them in this way, leading us along as if we were reading a novel, or philosophy.

Julianne Thomson’s Spin Exhibition at Yale-NUS College As an art student, how do you navigate the perennial tension between the ‘rules’ you are taught and the thing that drew you to art in the first place—the ability to express yourself creatively? For that matter, how does any student navigate the tension, learning from the past without mindlessly and slavishly copying?

The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Ubiquity If what was lost from a work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction was its ‘aura’, then what is lost today in the age of digital ubiquity? Maybe it’s something like spirit—aura, but with feeling and heart.

On Te Papa’s Toi Art / New Zealand’s Need for a National Art Gallery Most of us will see the masterworks of our culture just a few times in our lives, and having those works levelled to the same status as the giant squid does no viewer any favours, nor does it do New Zealand any favours in the eyes of foreign visitors.

The Eyes and Times of Frank and Lyn Corner To Frank and Lyn Corner New Zealand was a modern, vibrant, educated Pacific nation. Naturally, their art collection—much of which was bought while they were living overseas (including, notably, McCahon’s Landscape Theme and Variations, I and Angus’ Storm, Hawkes Bay)—should be informed by such a view.

National Gallery, a Film by Frederick Wiseman: A Brief Review Wiseman’s genius with National Gallery is to document the institution, on the one hand, but on the other to demonstrate the experience of being at such a gallery.

The New Zealand Scholar: J. C. Beaglehole’s Essential 1954 Lecture  117 years after Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered his lecture on the nature and aspirations of The American Scholar, Beaglehole delivered his own lecture taking up the same question in the New Zealand context. It might be no less than New Zealand’s “declaration of intellectual independence.”

The Cornish Connection at the Suter Art Gallery, Nelson There are no easy links or explanations here, but that travel and interaction with international artists in a specific location had a great impact on New Zealand art, we see very clearly.

Rita Angus (New Zealand painter) The art of Rita Angus teaches New Zealanders how by close observation of what is unique about ourselves we might move closer to seeing what is universal.

To Spend Time Is To Explore Time: Giorgio Morandi and Edmund de Waal at Stockholm’s Artipelag This art aspires not to newness, but to timelessness. Enter this gallery and you exit Modernism’s conception of time and progress, leaving behind along with it all that is pre and post, avant-garde and rear-guard…

Design and Living: Architect Ernst Plischke’s Manifesto for Housing in New Zealand “A house is a framework for living”, wrote Plischke; his 1947 book is at once an architectural primer, exposition of Modernist principles, and handbook for solutions to housing crises.

Summer With Picasso and Giacometti Reconciliation with death is what art—and especially that of Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti—finally offers us. Two European exhibitions of these artists’ work could not be more timely.