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August 13, 2012 | by  | in Arts Visual Arts |
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Peripheral Relations: Marcel Duchamp and New Zealand

There is very little in life that a giant fibreglass seal balancing a stool and a bicycle wheel on its nose can’t make better. The new exhibition at the Adam Art Gallery is grounded in discussing the influence of Marcel Duchamp’s work and theories on New Zealand artists throughout the second half of the 20th century, a dense theoretical topic at the best of times. But this exhibit is so much more than a wordy exploration of a less discussed sphere of our art history; it is also unashamedly joyous and mad.

The curatorial theme binding this exhibition together is the influence of Marcel Duchamp on three generations of New Zealand artists. Curator Marcus Moore has been working in this subject area for years, a form of it providing the subject for his PhD study, and his expertise shines through in the clear and concise way in which this exhibit communicates theory and captivates the eye.

The exhibition challenges the notion that New Zealand artists were behind the ball in the engaging with global artistic trends, and instead makes a case for a unique interpretation of those themes grounded in the notion that as a nation we are on the periphery of the world. I’ll admit that some theoretical aspects of this exhibit still eludes me, some works leaving me completely baffled. However, I don’t think that that in itself is such a bad thing. I’m still thinking about those works, still considering what they are trying to say and how they are communicating it. These works have stayed with me on a mental level, but even without that aspect this exhibition is extremely striking and elegant visually.

The white-walled gallery space has been transformed into a madcap world of colour, light and movement which turns a visit to the space into a strange multi-sensory experience. Behind a closed door down a dark corridor is a surreal bright colourscape which feels like a dream sequence out of the first half of The Shining. As if this sensory slap in the face wasn’t enough I soon noticed two small spyholes fitted into a locked door. Staring through them magical vistas unfold, other worlds tantalisingly close, yet unreachable. This work by Giovanni Intra sums up the experience of visiting Peripheral Relations. There is plenty to discuss and analyse if desired, but the visual journey itself is captivating all on its own.

The ideas of the art as the readymade, and the re-contextualisation of an object to see what result is created, are elucidated by a work by Julia Morison called Relics. This piece consists of a deft arrangement of small boxes containing what appears to be cement. What it is in reality is liquefaction that the artist collected while cleaning up her property immediately after the February 2011 earthquake in Canterbury.

This work brings the theory being discussed in the exhibition to a raw and emotional head. It affirms more than any other work in the gallery that New Zealand has not been left behind in the international discussion; rather we are using the conversation in our own way to reference our national context in its victories and its disasters.

This exhibition is wonderful, zany and profoundly odd. Whether you want to delve into the theory or you simply want to see a full yacht inside a building, you should definitely pop in to the Adam at some point for a wander.

Even if just to be cheered up by the seal.

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