Artwork full of mystery wins top New Zealand award

New Zealand Painting and Printmaking Award judge Zara Stanhope, the principal curator and head of programmes at Auckland ...
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/FAIRFAX NZ

New Zealand Painting and Printmaking Award judge Zara Stanhope, the principal curator and head of programmes at Auckland Art Gallery, admires the work she selected as the recipient of the competition's $20,000 prize - a diptych created by Christchurch-based artists Victoria Edwards and Ina Johann titled On the Seam of Things - Constellations # 5.

A shadowy figure wrapped in a dark blanket, apparently composed of a collection of rubber gloves clutches a vacuum cleaner, while what seems to be a giant asteroid hovers menacingly overhead.

Or maybe it isn't an asteroid at all. Maybe it is a tiny piece of rock magnified to great effect.

An artwork that invites the viewer to draw their own conclusions about what it represents - and even what it depicts - has been chosen as the winner of the 2016 New Zealand Painting and Printmaking Award.

And visitors to the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival will be able to see and decide for themselves what On the Seam of Things - Constellations # 5 is all about if they head along to the gardens' pavilion where it and 40 other artworks selected as finalists for the award are being exhibited for the duration of the festival.

The winner of the award, which comes with a $20,000 prize, was announced on Friday night at the gala opening event, as well as two merit awards that went to Auckland artist Deborah Crowe, for archival pigment print work Fictional Realities: Fall; and Christchurch-based Steven Junil Park's portrait of a woman called Natalia Saegusa.

They were selected by judge Zara Stanhope, the principal curator and head of programmes at the Auckland Art Gallery, who said she was drawn to the work because of all the questions it raised in her mind.

"It's certainly open to interpretation ... It's not necessarily a story with an answer."

Stanhope, who is also an adjunct professor in the School of Art and Design at the Auckland University of Technology and holds a PhD candidate from the School of Arts and Social Sciences at the Australian National University in Canberra, said there was an exciting array of works entered in this year's competition, including many that dwelt on themes of place and land or connections with the earth.

"They were all very different, very personal ... It was extremely difficult to choose a winner."

The award is a staple of the arts festival each year. Forty-one finalists were selected by Stanhope, from the 250 entries submitted and she employed a "blind judging" technique, in which she had no information about the artists.

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Those who think Stanhope got it all wrong and want to choose their own winner can do so by voting for a "people's choice" award.

The $20,000 prize is sponsored by the Philip Vela Family Trust and the exhibition is hosted and run by the Waikato Society of Arts.

 - Stuff

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