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: Something is Happening Here

Fox: We’re looking at something, nostalgic, something blue, something battered and fried, you might say. Something familiar.

Nina: Blue cod, surely. It’s gotta be a painting of a fish, maybe a commentary on the crisis of overfishing?

The answer: Almost! We’re looking at Dame Robin White’s (Ngāti Awa, Pākehā) piece, Fish and Chips: Maketu, an oil painting of, you guessed it, a fish and chip shop. It’s part of Dunedin Public Art Gallery’s Something is Happening Here exhibition, a full retrospective of Dame Robin’s 50-year career. What else did we see?

The fish and chip shop piece is darling, and harkens back to everyone’s common childhood experience of being given a few bucks to run down and buy something deep-fried. It’s got every bit of Aotearoa in it: corrugated iron, blue-washed storefronts, the expanse of background ocean, “To Take Away”, scrawled on the sign…I can almost taste the salt and batter.

The store is closed on Monday and Tuesday. You can barely make out the sign, written on the window, that tells you about the closure. What’s going on on a Monday or Tuesday? How can such a tiny shop afford to take two days off, or is that just their Saturday and Sunday? Are the owners behind the building, down on the beach? What do they do on their days off? We don’t know, but we know that it’s a bluebird day, the store is closed, and the owners, presumably, are lapping up the sun. At least, I hope they are. I want to join them.

Next, we took a look at Mere and Siulolovao, Otago Peninsula, from 2017. Again, the piece has elements of nostalgic Aotearoa. It’s a candid oil painting depicting a mother holding her child, with their Portobello cottage visible behind them, framed on either side by washing on the line.

The mother, clad in a bold yellow shirt and intricately-patterned skirt, draws your attention to the glum-faced toddler positioned on her hip as one would a washing basket, who she gazes lovingly at through chic aviator glasses (yeah, mumma).

All mothers would probably relate to the slight exasperation in her gaze - she has shit to do, washing to fold, and this kid is looking like it just dropped a deuce in its diaper. It’s nice weather, though, so a quick walk to a nearby river for a dunk should do the trick while she waits for the summer sun to dry the sheets on the line. We’ve all been that toddler, but how many of us have been the mum?

All up, the exhibition is chock full of pieces that will make you reminisce. It was like taking a step back, both in time and in space.

Recommended song for your visit: For What it’s Worth - Buffalo Springfield

This article first appeared in Issue 2, 2023.
Posted 1:16pm Sunday 5th March 2023 by Fox Meyer and Nina Brown.