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A new book celebrating Hundertwasser in New Zealand

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Hundertwasser in New Zealand

By Andreas Hirsch

Oratia Books

RRP $70.00

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

It’s almost fifty years since Hundertwasser burst onto the art scene in New Zealand with his major exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery. That show which opened in April 1973 was the start of an interconnected, almost symbiotic relationship between New Zealand and the Austrian artist.

The catalogue for that show sold in its thousands and it seemed that most New Zealand art lovers had a copy of it. The book went on to be published in 18 editions selling over 750,000 copies.

Hundertwasser’s connections with New Zealand went further than that exhibition. Not only did he design a new flag for the country which almost became the official flag but he designed one of the country’s few ’iconic” architectural works with the Kawakawa public toilets. The recent opening of the Hundertwasser Art Centre in Whangarei which he also designed has further cemented his creative impact on New Zealand society.

Hundertwasser Art Centre

In some ways Hundertwasser could be seen as the archetypal New Zealand artist / architect.  He displayed the No 8 wire mentality in his approach to architecture and design as well as a desire to own his own piece of land and developed an affinity with Māori. He also  drew inspiration from the landscape as well as seeing the need to integrate the individual into the physical and natural environment.

A new book  “Hundertwasser in New Zealand” by Andreas Hirsch, a long-time friend of the artist  provides insights into this latter-day New Zealand citizen who had a major impact on the arts, the environmental movement and Northland itself.

The book records his journeys around the world including the voyages on his boat, Regentag which sailed from Europe to New Zealand, metaphorically linking his European life to his New Zealand life. The book is also a record of his artistic journeys as he developed his artwork and the themes he was fascinated with. There is also his journey within New Zealand as he sought to acquire property and then his years of developing his farmland  in the Kaurinui Valley.

In the book much is written about his career up to his major Auckland show at a time when his work was becoming internationally recognised . As the German curator Wieland Schmied noted at the opening of the exhibition in Auckland. ‘The themes of Hundertwasser’s pictures are labyrinthine architectural structures, hill-like houses surrounded by protecting fences, house-like steamers surrounded by protecting waves, leaf-like windows surrounded by protecting spirals, the spirals running inwards with many convolutions like paths leading towards a cave of security.’ These are themes which were much in keeping with Māori creative approaches.

His interest in alternative architecture is outlined from his early rooftop living in Vienna in a building designed by Otto Wagner to his encounter with the New Zealand architect  Ivan Tarulevicz whose  house in Tauranga Hundertwasser saw as  a functioning implementation of his vision of green roofs with sheep grazing on the roof. Several years before Tarulevicz had been responsible for getting Buckminster Fuller, a proponent  of the geodesic dome to come to New Zealand to talk.

The book also expands on the way that Hundertwasser came to acquire land in Northland and his growing understanding and respect for Māori. At the same time, he was expanding his commitment to ecological and conservation issues which were in turn were linked his artistic work, producing paintings and posters related to  these ideas.

For many New Zealanders, Hundertwasser’s career centre on that 1973 exhibition but the book expands on his twenty years of his output before arriving in Auckland. His early life and much of his outlook was built on his Jewish / Aryan heritage and like many in post-war Germany he saw the need for a social revolution. There is also material about the process leading up to that Auckland  show and the efforts of his Australian dealer Hertha Dabbert who had given hm a  Melbourne  show  in 1970 

The texts also provide ways of insights into the artists approach to art and life, notably with his notion of the five skins of the human being, the importance of the spiral and his  ideas about the horizontal (the domain of nature) and the vertical, (the domain of man).

Hundertwasser, Fagan’s Farm

The book manages to show how the artist’s career and ideas are reflected in his art  and the way the  works become the visual diary of his physical, intellectual and social  progress. Paintings such as “Fagan’s Farm” which have many of the features of his work is based on the farm owned by neighbours of his in Northland. The painting is a plan of the farm with many  features of the landscape but it is also something of a metaphysical map as well, embodying the notions of “crop circles” inherent in the land as well as the idea of the spiral or koru  which  refers to the endless cycle of growth and renewal.

It is a handsome publication with a number of full colour illustrations of his work along with images of his architectural work both here and elsewhere. There are also preliminary sketches of the Arts Centre as well as illustrations of early concepts of building with nature.

It is a book which traces out the history of a visionary creator but also provides insight into the way in which an individual can help change thinking in terms of social issues and our ways of seeing.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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