The latest exhibition to open at Queensland's Gallery of Modern
Art (GOMA) is a tour de force by the extraordinary New Zealand
artist, Michael Parekowhai.
In 2011 he represented New Zealand at the Venice Biennale with
an ambitious exhibition entitled On First Looking into Chapman's
Homer, featuring the now infamous bronze bulls atop grand pianos in
the garden of a Venetian palazzo.
This latest exhibition is billed as a retrospective, but
Parekowhai has not been content to simply gather together and
exhibit work made over the past 25 years or so of his highly
successful career. Instead, he offers us The Promised Land, a
visual and sensory journey through a combination of major new work,
familiar friends and pieces that we thought we knew, but that the
artist has rewritten.
In typically New Zealand fashion, we enter the exhibition
through the back door of a two storey coral-coloured house,
constructed within the gallery, to be greeted by a larger-than-life
stainless steel sculpture of Captain James Cook (The English
Channel, 2015), pensively sitting upon a tripod table. Cook is
surrounded by a wallpaper army of Parekowhai's familiar security
guards and businessmen, cast on a smaller scale and in a variety of
quirky colours. From here the journey through this delightful
'memory palace' begins as the viewer becomes immersed in the
wonderful world of Michael Parekowhai.
GOMA's huge Fairfax Gallery, which may be daunting to some, is
skillfully divided into thirds, with the second part of the
exhibition, The Homefront, taking place beyond a giant
Cuisenaire-rod wall. Individual rooms within highlight
aspects of the artist's practice and perhaps provide insights into
his interests - religion, war, the planets, music, home and places
far away to name but a few. Parekowhai is interested in making the
ordinary extra-ordinary, highlighting everyday imagery rather than
the exotic. One of the lightbulb moments for me in this
exhibition was the skill with which Parekowhai gives what we may
regard as 'common' items gravitas. Sparrows, rabbits, golf
balls and lemon trees straight from the garden centre are
transformed into beautiful sculptural objects via Parekowhai's
Queensland Art Gallery holds a collection of Parekowhai's work,
with the most significant piece being The Horn of Africa 2006, a
piano balanced upon a seal's nose. Spectacular in its appearance,
it sits playfully in one of the final rooms, amongst photographs
from the series The Consolation of Philosophy: piko nei te maenga
2001. While Parekowhai can be playful, his work is always sincere,
and to me this room feels like a true example of the artist's
ability to traverse a range of emotions.
From here you exit into a massive, magical room which holds what
was the centrepiece of the Venice exhibition, the red piano, He
Kōrero Pūrākau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river
2011. As the artist says, no object can fill a room like sound can.
A little girl danced and other visitors sat quietly in the bronze
school chairs dotted around the room as the piano was played. Above
it on a wall is a recent neon work which flickers on and off with
the word "Closed". At other times it says "Lose". Perhaps he
is reminding us that this art business is really just a game?
GOMA itself is a wonderful destination to visit. I can recommend
lunch at the terrace restaurant, where the signature dessert
appeared looking very much like an Aboriginal dot painting but is
in fact a delicate wattleseed custard. Outside the gallery, beside
the river, don't miss Parekowhai's major bronze, The World Turns
2011-12, commissioned in 2011 to mark the 5th
anniversary of the opening of GOMA and 20 years of the Asia Pacific
Triennal of Contemporary Art.
The exhibition continues until June 21, so if you are able to
make it to Brisbane before then, you will be well rewarded. - Leigh