The influence of art schools
Post-object art emerged from sculpture departments at the art schools in Auckland and Christchurch. Here, a new generation of artists were fostered by influential teachers such as Jim Allen, who taught sculpture at the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts from 1960 to 1976, and Tom Taylor, lecturer in sculpture at the University of Canterbury’s Ilam School of Fine Arts between 1960 and 1991.
Allen in particular has been recognised as an important catalyst, especially after an influential sabbatical to England, France, the United States and Mexico in 1968, a crucial year of student riots and social upheaval. He exposed students to new ideas and practices through his own example, by introducing new teaching methods and by bringing in visiting lecturers, including British artists Adrian Hall and Kieran Lyons.
Billy Apple’s trips to New Zealand in 1975 and 1979–80 are good examples of the productive relationship between post-object artists and art gallery professionals. The New Zealand-born, New York-based artist worked in public and dealer galleries throughout the country. His series of ‘alterations’ and ‘subtractions’ that drew attention to and subtly altered aspects of the architecture and interior design of the spaces, relied heavily on the goodwill of directors, gallery owners and staff. The purpose of these works was to expose how the artist was embedded in social, political, cultural and economic systems.
Works by Allen, his students (including Bruce Barber, Phil Dadson, Kimberley Gray, Maree Horner, John Lethbridge, David Mealing, Leon Narbey and Roger Peters) and other post-object artists were presented at a wide array of venues. These included Auckland City Art Gallery, Barry Lett Galleries (one of the few dealer galleries willing to support such non-commercial activities), New Plymouth’s Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, Manawatu Art Gallery in Palmerston North, the CSA Gallery in Christchurch and non-art spaces as various as the Epsom Showgrounds, Auckland’s west coast beaches and remote locations in the South Island.
National and international links
Regional alliances were perceived as especially meaningful, and post-object art was notable for fostering strong links between Australia and New Zealand. In the 1970s Jim Allen secured New Zealand artists’ involvement in the Mildura Sculpture Triennial and at the Experimental Art Foundation in Adelaide, both of which were important platforms for post-object art.
Later, Ian Hunter, an Irish-born artist and art gallery professional who spent 14 years in New Zealand, mostly in Wellington, between 1970 and 1984, played an important role in fostering post-object art in the capital (along with Nicholas Spill, Andrew Drummond, Barbara Strathdee and others) and deepening connections across the Tasman. He established alternative exhibiting structures suited to post-object art, such as the short-lived Artists’ Co-op (1977–79); the F1 Sculpture Project (1982), and most significantly, ANZART, a New Zealand-Australian artist event that was held in Christchurch (1981), Hobart (1983) and Auckland (1985).
While post-object artists were largely critical of public institutions and the commercial system, they were still dependent on and maintained relationships with a professional art world committed to the latest developments in high culture. For example, inaugural director John Maynard invited Leon Narbey to create a major sound/light/kinetic environment, ‘Real time’, for the opening exhibition of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth in 1970. The Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council of New Zealand provided grants for New Zealand artists to establish an unofficial presence at the Biennale of Sydney in 1979, in response to the poor representation of New Zealand artists in the Biennale exhibition. Side F/X, as the New Zealand gathering was called, focused on performance and temporary installations, two key forms of post-object art.
Post post-object art
Post-object art has not yet been fully integrated into the story of New Zealand art. This is partly because of its physical impermanence and because of the dispersal of many of its key adherents after 1975 – Allen and Lethbridge to Australia, Barber to Canada, Narbey into film, Hunter back to the United Kingdom.
Documenting post-object art
In the absence of physical artefacts, much post-object art survived in written accounts. From 1970 Wystan Curnow became ‘house critic’ for the movement, providing first-hand chronicles of key artists, actions and events. With Jim Allen, Curnow edited New art: some recent New Zealand sculpture and post-object art (1976), the only book on New Zealand’s post-object art yet to be published. Curnow also played an important role in Billy Apple’s practice after 1979, providing the words for his text-based works and producing several critical accounts.