Celebrating continuing relevance that is Hotere

By ODT | Posted: Thursday November 12, 2020

Dunedin Public Art Gallery will this week open the first major exhibition of Ralph Hoteres work in 20 years. Rebecca Fox talks to gallery director Cam McCracken about the significance of the exhibition.

When Cam McCracken became director of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery seven years ago, an exhibition of Ralph Hotere’s work was at the forefront of his mind.

"I knew this show is really important and we are ready to do it now."

Considered one of New Zealand’s most significant artists, Hotere, who lived at Port Chalmers for much of his life, received the Order of New Zealand in 2012. He died the following year.

The exhibition, "Ralph Hotere: Atete (to resist)", is the first major exhibition of his work since his death. The last was "Black Light" created by DPAG and Te Papa in 2000.

"It’s a real honour for us to stage the show in Dunedin, his adopted city," McCracken says.

DPAG has teamed up with the Christchurch Art Gallery to present the exhibition which will be opened in Dunedin tomorrow by Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy.

It is an exhibition which has been at least two years in the making.

Four curators, including DPAG’s Lucy Hammonds and Lauren Gutsell, have worked to bring together 70 works from public and private galleries and private owners from around New Zealand.

"While it is not strictly speaking a survey show, it really spans his career," McCracken says.

It would give a new generation the chance to experience a large body of Hotere’s work in one place.

"There is a generation of artists, there is a generation of potential art appreciators and an art-loving community which hasn’t seen his work for that amount of time. It is a chance to see work they haven’t been exposed to before."

Ralph Hotere in Port Chalmers in 1991. PHOTO: OTAGO DAILY TIMES

Two works in particular stand out for McCracken. It is the first time the large Godwit/Kuaka (1977) will be shown in Dunedin and it is the first time since 2000 that Hotere’s sculpture Black Phoenix (1984-88) has been shown at DPAG. It is held by Te Papa and its staff visited Dunedin to install it.

"They are two of his most significant works. The show has been carefully curated to pick out the high moments in his practice."

Two of the gallery’s most recent Hotere acquisitions, works on paper created in the 1960s, will also be unveiled for the first time.

"That is really exciting."

The entire first floor is devoted to the exhibition.

There are three major themes around colour and material, journeys, and protest and dissent.

"Ralph was a phenomenal abstract artist and as a formalist he is without peer, in my opinion."

The works in the exhibition also reflect Hotere’s time travelling in Europe and those places that became significant to him such as Sangro, Italy, where his older brother Jack is buried after he was killed in World War 2, and, of course, Port Chalmers.

The third theme ties into the title of the exhibition "Atete" which translates as "to resist".

"Ralph had a sense of justice so his work in the 1970s and 1980s looked at apartheid, issues of structural racism in this country and he had ecological concerns — such as his protests against the Aramoana smelter."

While it might be 20 years or more since these works have been seen in Dunedin, they are still relevant and poignant, McCracken says.

"It’s been the most unusual year where, as a planet, we have collectively been interested in ... Black Lives Matter, racial equality, climate change — and Ralph’s works made in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s have a poignancy that continues to the contemporary moment.

"That’s what makes him a great artist in my opinion. It makes the show doubly relevant. Through the lens of today the work has relevance and incredibly poignancy. And I think we can look at that work and see they will have a resonance into the future too."

While much has been written about Hotere and his work, McCracken believes the exhibition finds new ground.

The length of time since the last exhibition also enabled the curators to look at his work with fresh and contemporary eyes.


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