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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 30, No. 9. 1967.

Kelliher Trust is patronage abused modern art wanted

Kelliher Trust is patronage abused modern art wanted

It is always difficult, in reviewing exhibi-tions at this time of the year to avoid monotonous repetition that is found in the quality of the paintings exhibited.

I am of course referring to New Zealand's largest exhibition—the one that purports to show the standards achieved by New Zealand artists throughout the preceding year —those by which New Zealand artists are judged from overseas—the Kelliher.

All over the country this competition remains a subject for debate—there is abuse and there is praise—and it is high time that these arguments are evaluated. This is perhaps best done by starting with the conditions laid down by the Kelliher Art Trust and set out by catalogue.

"The object of the competition is to encourage artists to paint faithfully the beauty and the essential character of the New Zealand scene and thereby develop a livelier public appreciation of The Fine Arts and of the infinitely varied aspects of our land."

In order to achieve this, prizes amounting to $2200 are awarded annually.

The competition has certainly achieved its aim in many of its objects — it attracts a large number of artists, viewers, and a "livelier public appreciation" (but not of the Pine Arts). I am willing to believe that there are "infinitely varied aspects of our land" but this is hard to reconcile with the paintings displayed each year. Not only do they all look alike, what is worse, they are all treated similarly. Every year more and more people trudge up to the Gallery in Buckle Street and pay to see what they could well see on chocolate boxes and calendars.

The main argument against the competition is that it imposes absurd restrictions on the artists—Sir Henry Kelliher's concept of what is "good art." In this respect the artist is not painting to create a work of art but only to illustrate Sir Henry's vision, and those of the carefully selected judges of whom few have ever heard (with the exception of William Dargie).

It is therefore a good example of the abuse of patronage. Sir Henry said at this year's opening that the second prize made him feel like paddling—he appears to have been doing this for the past 11 years.

There is no need for abstract painting to take over as this is only one field of what has been loosely called 'modern art.' However, what is needed is an artistically creative and modern interpretation of the artist's subject. Three examples of this non-abstract modern approach are seen in the works of Chagall, Kokoshka and the Surrealists.

Next door to the Kelliher, in the National Gallery there was an exhibition of works by Marcel Duchamp. Owing to the fact that the works on show were those of one private collection—the Mary Sisler Collection— the works shown only displayed two aspects of the artist—his earliest and his latest works. This resulted in the absence of his greatest works such as the famous Nude Descending a Staircase.

His very early period was represented mainly by several pencil and water colour sketches and conte drawings. Humour then takes over and works such as LHOOQ, a reproduction of the Mona Lisa with a pencilled in moustache and beard, display not only his sense of humour but also his view on the over-reverence of the masters.

I must confess this not to be my own conception but one cannot dismiss it and should view it if only for the laugh. His later works are made of mainly sculpture with even more humour. One example is Please Touch, a foam rubber ready made "falsie" on black velvet and mounted on brown board.

The two exhibitions show extremes in the extent of contemporary painting: the latter throwing off at the revered ideals of the former. Perhaps New Zealand could start a new trend in art by splitting it into two. The first group could be for retired stockbrokers, brewery owners, prime ministers and the like and the other, not so important, for those genuinely interested in painting and not social prestige.