Christchurch 1978: two clay crafters attending the Potters Society annual exhibition at the Canterbury Society of Arts wander upstairs to check out the other display spaces. Imagine their horror when they discover young artist Andrew Drummond naked on a cross wearing a gas mask, his body coated in liquid latex.
It's a perfect example of the apparently unbridgeable chasm between art and craft. And, for new Academy of Fine Arts director Warren Feeney, the anecdote partly explains his push to stage Kete Contemporary Craft and Design Fair, showcasing (and selling) contemporary craftworks from galleries nationwide.
Drummond's crucifixion stunt went down in history books, even resulting in a charge of offensive behaviour. But what record remains of the ceramic exhibits? Perhaps a passing mention in dusty archives, if that.
''More attention needs to be given to acknowledging a broader picture of New Zealand art which encompasses craft, design, painting and sculpture,'' Feeney says.
The phrase craft fair conjures images of West Coast hippies hawking lopsided bowls, travellers threading beads, or grannies with trestle tables of hand-knit cardies. In the 80s, critics trying to raise standards in galleries were caustic in their criticism of ceramics and craft art. But contemporary craft, Feeney argues, blurs the boundaries between art and design, between the useful and the conceptual.
''For the last 10 years, jewellers and ceramicists have been making work that is conceptually rich but also functional objects,'' Feeney says. ''Some people would argue that the most interesting things happening in contemporary art are happening in New Zealand jewellery. You have to shift people's perspectives. Big statements don't always need to be made on a big scale. They can be made on a brooch you might happily be wearing.
''What's exciting about that is you don't need to go to an art gallery to see it. You can actually own it, wear it, have it in your home. There's a familiarity and tactile presence to it.''
Take Jane Todd's sculptural Handkerchief Panther brooch, which ''has the presence of a great work of art''. Or designer David Trubridge's lights, which are both rich in ideas and skilful in the making. Trubridge will give one of six talks forming part of the Kete programme, about the segregation and shared values of art, design and craft. Melbourne-based curator and online editor of The Journal of Modern Craft, Kevin Murray, will also speak, about indigenous craft.
Kete, which will show jewellery, ceramic, glass, textile and furniture objects from 15 national galleries, was intended to be held in Christchurch, where Feeney had lived for more than 35 years. But that was before the 6.3 earthquake struck the city on February 22 last year.
In a single day, 14 galleries ''imploded'' and Christchurch's art infrastructure was largely buried under the rubble. Having directed the Centre of Contemporary Art from 1999-2010, Feeney was by then self-employed, writing, teaching and running a gallery, Chambers 241. Clients dried up and Feeney looked north for work, starting at the Academy of Fine Arts in March.
By chance, rather than by design, Feeney believes Kete has found its rightful home. Home to craft and design courses at Whitireia and Massey University, textile artists working in the film industry and galleries such as Avid and Vessel, Wellington is a centre for art objects, Feeney believes.
But who has money to buy art in tough times? Will anything sell?
''Yes. I wouldn't put the needs of people into a hierarchy of 1 to 10, with food, shelter and clothing at the top and arts and wellbeing at the bottom. One of the things that struck me in Christchurch is the way people need all of those things at the same time. I went to several events at the [Christchurch] arts festival last year, they were all sold out. People were enthralled about the festival. There was something about it that gave it a sense of normalcy. It made them feel good about getting something that was good for their mind and spirit.'
- © Fairfax NZ News
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