What the shelve?

Award piece to reignite 'Is it really art?' debate

MIKE MATHER
Last updated 05:00 09/08/2014
Deanna Dowling
NICK REED/ Fairfax NZ

WHAT THE SHELF? Wellington artist Deanna Dowling with her winning work Tell Someone if Something Happens, at the National Contemporary Art Awards announcement at Waikato Museum last night.

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It seems to be defying gravity, but is it defying taste and logic?

The artwork deemed to be deserving of this year's National Contemporary Art Award is part of a fluorescent light tube apparently perched precariously on the edge of a wooden shelf.

Titled Tell Someone if Something Happens, the work by Wellington artist Deanna Dowling, looks set to reignite the "Is it really art?" debate that frequently accompanies the announcement of the annual awards hosted by Waikato Museum.

This year's judge Simon Rees was in no doubt of the artistic merits of Dowling's creation.

"It's an elegant and simple and good looking object. The artist has had fun messing with logic . . . it breaks all the rules."

In her artist statement, Dowling spoke of the fragility of the fluorescent bulb, which seems like it could fall and smash at any moment.

"I have dropped one, and god, the sound is so satisfying . . . Go on. I dare you. The sound is better than glass."

Dowling's efforts earned her the $15,000 prize. Five merit awards were also announced at last night's ceremony at the museum. They were Hamilton artist Elsa Lye's The Cardinals; Pretty Boys by Dunedin artist Madeleine Child; Christchurch artist Ina Johann's Lost Lines #2; Natalie Guy of Auckland's Form for Interior; and A Drawing Activity, created by Frances Hansen of Auckland.

The award's recipients have included some eyebrow-raising works such as a cream-coloured bus shelter created by Auckland artists Michael Parr and Blaine Western for the 2012 competition. In 2009 fellow Auckland artist Dane Mitchell took out the award for his piece Collateral, packaging from other award entries that he instructed gallery staff to throw together as his exhibit.

Rees said the entries for this year's award were "a pleasing admixture of attention-to-craft, beauty, conceptual eclat, devil-may-care, deep-thinking, elegance, humour, and dedication to the outright ugly - in a good way. All the stuff contemporary art is made of."

The National Contemporary Art Award exhibition is open daily from today until November 9, from 10am to 4.30pm. Admission is free.

Rees will host a free floor talk at 10am today at the museum.

mike.mather@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

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