In the Eye of the Beholders | Dunedin Art Reviews

In the Eye of the Beholders | Dunedin Art Reviews

This column is supported by DPAG, but they have no influence on the reviews

Every week, we send two writers to an art exhibit in Ōtepoti Dunedin. One of them will choose a specific piece, and describe it to the other without them looking. They’ll try to figure out what the piece actually is before diving into their thoughts on the entire exhibition. You can’t ascribe any one meaning to any one piece of art, so this functions a bit like a game of artistic telephone. Let’s dive in.

This Week: The Art of Central Library

Maddie: The piece I’m looking at is mixed media. It uses shapes and curving lines to draw the eye in many different directions. It was made by an artist iconic to Aotearoa New Zealand.
My first thoughts went straight to op art or abstract art, but when you mentioned that it was an artist from Aotearoa New Zealand, my guess is a work by Gordon Walters.
The answer: We’re looking at Ralph Hotere’s piece, Untitled (mural design): mixed media on board from 1965-66. It’s part of the many permanent artworks found within the Central Library. Not only does the library hold a stack of books, but there's a stack of great artwork too!
Central Library is a place that almost all students are very familiar with. For some, it’s a place of intense, isolated study; for others, a place to hang out with their friends and be obnoxiously loud, distracting everyone else (you know who you are! Stop it). Yet what you may not have noticed is the huge amount of (hugely expensive) art housed within. We’ve compiled our thoughts on a selection of these, in an act of selfless procrastination in the name of art. 
Entering the lib from the east gate, you’ll encounter Stretcher to Te Pahi by Chris Booth (1986). This sculpture consists of bronze and sticks laid across long striped branches of kānuka, balanced on top of basalt stone. It’s easy to miss, being on the floor, but that’s part of what makes it interesting. Although tbh, rather rude of the central library to remind us we’d rather be horizontal in bed. 
Looking up, you’ll notice Peter Anderson's gorgeous painting, 54 degrees south. This large-scale oil on canvas from 2010 depicts an expansive seascape of dark churning waters and waves. Up close, you can appreciate all the individual wavy brush strokes that build up the image, merging photorealism and Impressionism. Perhaps the placement of this work symbolises the deep ocean of knowledge held within, or maybe it’s the looming wave of assignments due soon.
Close by is another painting, How can I go forward? by Lyle Penisula from 1990 (oil on board). It depicts a contemplative figure, sitting down beside a concrete wall with a cigarette and a beer. Within the wall and pavement is some written text, but trying to decipher what the words actually were felt just like doing textbook readings, re-reading the same sentence without understanding. With the help of Maddie’s keen eyes, we decrypted that the message contained within the painting was “How can I go forward if I don’t know which way I’m facing?” Ruh-roh, sounds like someone needs a trip to Te Pokapū Umanga Career Development Centre to get back on track x.  Aside from the existential crisis, this painting also made us want a bevvy and nic hit after studying. An important reminder: do the mahi, get the treats.
Going up the stairs, you’ll run into Daphne, a fibreglass sculpture of a female figure made by Robert Nettleton Field in 1967. Daphne looks as if she's either nodded off or crying. Girl, same.
Making your way up the northern stairs to the second floor will land you in front of PH Revisited (Lucille) (1992), created by Neil Frazer. It’s a gigantic circular canvas covered in an impasto application of oil paints, an effect that close up reminded us of the multitudes of gum that no doubt covers the undersides of desks throughout the uni. This painting dominates the library, visible from multiple floors. Its shape, texture, colour and position also suggest the painting is a representation of either the sun or moon, an artificial replacement for when you’re stuck inside trying to cram before the exam.
Also on the first floor is Waterfall Theme and Variations (1966), a gorgeous, dark landscape mural by Colin McCahon that probably costs a bajillion dollars and is alarm equipped to prove it. Go stand in front of it to manifest the moolah the end of your degree will bring. 
These are only a few of the many world-class artworks housed within the library. So next time you need a study break, go check them out. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll even feel an emotion like peace or joy within the walls of the Central Library. 
Recommended song for your visit: Ambient Study Music to Concentrate – 4 Hours of Music for Studying, Concentration and Memory.

This article first appeared in Issue 23, 2022.
Posted 8:42pm Sunday 18th September 2022 by Esmond Paterson and Maddie Fenn.