Precarious Balance, the new exhibition curated by Paula Orrell to mark the re-opening of CoCA gallery in Christchurch, is a good reason to visit Christchurch — it’s one of the freshest, tightest, most reverberant exhibitions I’ve seen in some time.

Here we have art that seems to capture the contemporary zeitgeist — that state of contemporary anxiety in which the world seems inescapably poised. But it’s also light, playful, delightful and hopeful.

Of course, it speaks first and foremost to Christchurch physically and psychically, but its references are far broader. As in much contemporary art, found objects/readymades abound — and, declaring the interest that got me to the opening, I have to mention first up Peter Trevelyan’s major new work made of Whitcoulls plastic rulers. Pretty with pink and yellow rulers interspersed amongst their transparent peers, this, at first glance perfect, sphere sits subject to invisible earth-wrenching forces buckling, twisting and contorting its base.

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Peter Trevelyan’s ‘Circularism’ with Joanna Langford’s ‘Calling the Deep’ in ‘Precarious Balance’

Similarly British artist Matt Calderwood employs spades, ladders and balls outrageously balanced on assemblages of wine glasses that look too impossibly fragile to carry their weight.

Joanna Langford creates seemingly unstable towers from cement fragments, reminiscent of the childhood game to see how you can go before the structure collapses. I’ve been a fan for some time of the work of both Langford and Zina Swanson. Both seem to have an interest in post-apocalyptic narratives with something of the magical.

My body went tense watching the high wire walker in multiscreen video of Scottish artist Catherine Yass. This is nerve-wracking but compelling viewing.

What is wonderful in this exhibition is that there is not one dud. While there’s no time/space to mention every work, all contribute to the whole — the inclusion of Tongan-born Sione Faletau’s performance video usefully broadens readings bringing in references to the Pacific — deepening our sense of the possibilities contained in the exhibition premise.

AND of course, another reason to visit the southern city is the Christchurch Art Gallery just around the corner — all spaces open and lots of great art to view.

Very exciting to see the opening exhibition at CoCA in Christchurch — finally open again after 5 years. Congratulations to all involved. Our Peter Trevelyan has produced a major new work for the show — a 4 metre diameter sphere Circularism. Who would have thought that 30cm plastic rulers could create such rounded and crumpled form. Speaking to earthquake eruptions and unexpected distortions, Circularism is a great new work in a new media for an artist well know for his graphite constructions — his largest one of which can be seen next door at the Christchurch Art Gallery.

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A laugh-out-loud book I read this summer lightly and deftly explores the vagaries of the art world and market. The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild is a satirical page-turning romp and great holiday reading.

9781408862452With a cast of characters, not quite caricatures, capturing virtually every role in the contemporary art world—including an imagined 18th century painting by the real French master Antoine Watteau that tells tales of its history and what it has witnessed—Rothschild sets the scene for a rollicking exploration of desire and love, greed and villainy. Her chuckle-inducing tone is set early on as she introduces her first character, an impoverished Earl forced into employment as an art auctioneer, who speaks “in a voice honed by eight generations of aristocratic fine living and assumed superiority”. Only the central lovers are spared the writer’s satire.

As the characters play out their roles, so too art history and a diverse range of art world issues are employed to advance the yarn. The author who is part of the Rothschild banking dynasty and chair of the Britain’s National Gallery, touches on issues from the Nazi art looting which affected her family to art historical processes and methods, to the reasons people collect art and the collusion of wealth and power. A delightful sub-theme explores the central character’s love of cooking and compares the chef and painter’s creations of tastes and imagery.

All this built around a love story and the conundrum of art’s ongoing power to go beyond the material to speak to the best of human creativity alongside its commodification and alignment with the excesses of consumerist capitalism. An easy (apart from a few quick dictionary checks for the meaning of words such as pulchritudinous—turns out you use this word to describe a person of breathtaking, heartbreaking beauty) amusing and satisfying read.

Congratulations to Christchurch Art Gallery finally open again 5 years after the big quake. The staff have done a wonderful hang with some fabulous and surprising groupings, for example a room with McCahon and Van der Velden. We were proud to see several of our artists included. Images from top to bottom: Andre Hemer’s painting New Representation #2, 2015; Helen Calder (L) and Marie Lievre paintings, Lonnie Hutchinson and then Peter Trevelyan’s mind-boggling, gravity-defying work Scape.

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Read about Edward Hanfling’s conversation with André here

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The Sarjeant Gallery is also exhibiting work by Julia Morison in the group show Heads & Tales, which brings together four artists who work with the head form. Julia Morison’s Headcases, first exhibited at Bartley + Company Art in late-2014, are richly detailed yet ambiguous glazed stoneware based on the form of an anonymous milliner’s block. Mostly devoid of any human features, these works are surreal and psychological studies of the known and the unknown. The exhibition runs until 6 December.

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Sarjeant Gallery curator Sarah McLintock gave a floor talk at the opening of Cat Auburn’s exhibition produced during her Tylee Cottage residency last summer. Cat explores and subverts traditional notions of the monument in this exhibition commemorating the almost 10,000 horses that went to World War 1 and never returned. Her installation comprises a five metre long panel of Victorian memorial rosettes, each made of the hair of a different horse, a fragment from a bronze memorial and a Turkish oud – also employing horse hair  You can also listen to a podcast with the curator discussing the project with Cat. The exhibition runs until mid-January.

Bartley + Company Art is at Sydney Contemporary this weekend, presenting works by Mary-Louise Browne, Helen Calder, Andre Hemer, Marie Le Lievre, Judy Millar, Anne Noble and Peter Trevelyan. If you’re in Sydney, be sure to head over to Carriageworks and visit us at booth A03. Alternatively, you may browse a full catalogue of the works online here.

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In the current issue of Art New Zealand, in shops now, you’ll find a review of Roger Mortimer’s sell-out show Te Waha, exhibited at Bartley + Company Art earlier this year. For anyone interested in Roger’s work, reviewer Malcolm Burgess has some interesting things to say about how it epitomises what writer Philip K Dick called ‘orthogonal time’.

“In Mortimer’s tragicomic works, aeons likewise back up on each other, creating a melting pot of history and fantasy; scenes from the Inferno playing out at some of our favourite national holiday spots.”

Roger is currently in New York undertaking his Wallace Art Award six-month residency at the International Studio and Curatorial Programme. We look forward to bringing you the results of the residency next year.

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Roger Mortimer, Golden Bay, 2014, ink, charcoal and acrylic lacquer on canvas, 910 x 1010 mm

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