How to Look at a Painting by Justin Paton

How to Look at a Painting by Justin Paton

Author:Justin Paton
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781877551833
Publisher: Awa Press
Published: 2012-11-30T16:00:00+00:00

Gentlemen, be kind. Of all the paintings which are here, seek out the worst, and remember that two thousand unfortunates have bitten their brushes in two, despairing of even doing so badly…

JEAN-BAPTISTE SIMEON CHARDIN, quoted by Denis Diderot in Salon of 1765

Half a day with the dealers

A CITY STREET. A lamp post. Morning. I’m in Auckland, at the corner of Karangahape Road and Queen Street. It’s five years since I moved south from the city, and several new architectural indignities have crash-landed near this intersection. K Road, meanwhile, has continued its long lurch between down-at-heel and newly spruced-up. The sex shops and strip clubs have mostly survived the arrival of the art galleries, although at least one gallery inhabits a former massage parlour.

Inside the galleries, the shows flow by so fast that even a committed gallery-goer can feel guilty for missing so many. But let’s not feel guilty. Let’s go.

Gear you will need:

Strong walking shoes.

A parka.

Thermos of tea.


Only kidding, although the shoes could come in handy. Auckland’s entire dealer circuit could be tucked into a mere kink of New York’s, but even so the volume of art is alarming. There are dealers in Christchurch, Wellington and Dunedin of course, and art outposts in spots as unlikely as Whitianga and Wanaka, but for total immersion in the swim of painting, Auckland is the place to go. There are more than 40 galleries, and most of them change shows every month. Since paintings are one-of-a-kind objects, the month in which a show’s on display is often your only chance to see a painting before it disappears into a collector’s living room, a dealer’s stockroom, or the Bermuda Triangle of the ‘artist’s collection’. For some people, the effort isn’t worth it: they leave it to public galleries and roving art consultants to do the sieving and selecting. But to be sure something amazing hasn’t slipped past, you need to get out there.

10.50 am The dealer galleries of our time would look bizarrely bare to eighteenth century viewers. Back then, gold-framed paintings leaned out heavily from every available wall space. Today the desired international look is blue-chip austere, with paintings afloat on white walls above acid-bleached floors. It’s how the foyer of heaven would look if God were a minimalist. (For a must-read account of this look and its history, see Brian O’Doherty’s Inside the White Cube.) Almost all New Zealand galleries subscribe to the cult of whiteness. Apart from the art, the only colour in the room is in the red dots that tell you something’s sold. Some dealers, alas, have begun to exclude even those, which spoils the fun almost as much as the ‘POA’ on price lists. POA translates as Price On Application, which translates as If You Have to Ask, You Certainly Can’t Afford It.

It can take a while to get over the feeling that you’re trespassing, or ruining the look. Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous probably spoke for many when she told a receptionist at a haughty London gallery to ‘lose the attitude, darling, you’re only a shop girl’.


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