Balance and harmony

FRAN DIBBLE
Last updated 12:06 21/12/2012
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JOSS WHEELER/Supplied
MODERN TAKE: Contemporary artwork made from steel made by Taranaki artist Ngahina Hohaia. Courtesy of the artist.

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REVIEW: In one of the side galleries of Te Manawa ART is a beautifully complete exhibition of cloaks including historical examples from the Te Manawa Collection, recent examples made by the Highbury Weavers' Collective and a contemporary steel work by a Taranaki artist. The exhibition, "Whenu Tu; Aho Pae", runs until February.

This succinct, special little show is a nice one to end the year on. It shows you don't need to have big showy exhibitions to get things right.

Often more is achieved with balance, interesting collections of objects and related objects that don't try to cover the whole ground and become repetitive, not with a complex curatorial theme but just informing in a straightforward way.

Whenu Tu; Aho Pae, an exhibition of cloaks, has this harmony. It contains a sampling of items including beautiful old cloaks from the Te Manawa Collection and recent examples of cloaks made by the Highbury Weavers' Collective. These free-stands, in contrast to the historical examples carefully stored in glass-topped cases horizontally, give the impression of four ghost matriarchs overseeing the show. What is so wonderful about seeing these cloaks is that they date from about 2007 to 2011, tangible evidence that traditional craft is alive and well, an optimistic message.

And it is tremendous to see good local content in an exhibition. A video supports the exhibition, simply put together, in-house, talking with one of the weavers, a pupil of the late Yvonne Marshall who founded the group, in her backyard, complete with lemon tree and standard wooden fence.

The design of the cloaks is basically patterning that stands as a sort of hieroglyphic code, relating family genealogy, the vertical stripes recording generations back with the horizontal repeats describing siblings in a family.

Cloaks have a simple shape, just a square tied at the throat; this gives easy forum with which to design. There is a play on texture - the candlewick base and woven band, some with threads hanging down decoratively, played off against the feathers - kereru, pheasant and turkey - with their soft rippled surface. These are things of beauty, old and historic relics, now new for times to come.

As the last review of the year, this is the time to look back. It has been a difficult one in the arts, with private galleries becoming rarities, and more often we see exhibitions that are just that bit smaller, often containing artworks that are also trimmed to offer more economy. The Public Sculpture Trust managed to get sculpture seven up with the redevelopment of Cuba St.

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One of Te Manawa's most substantial shows in its exhibition calendar was a photography show that ran mid-year titled "Now and Then", using works from the Collection with a heavy addition of loans to extend it to a broad and thorough survey. A smaller sample of the Collection was shown in an exhibition of formal abstraction with Wellington artist Peter Trevelyan making his small graphite crystalline structures in the display area. Photographer Neil Pardington's touring exhibition of the back of house of museums and art galleries was also a high point.

But, overall, it must be admitted that this hasn't been one of the best of years for the visual arts. Let's be quick to welcome in 2013.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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