Reviews, News and Commentary

Auckland Art Gallery to be flooded with light later this month

John Daly-Peoples

James Turrell, Raemer Blue

Light from Tate: 1700s to Now

Auckland Art Gallery

February 25 – June 25

John Daly-Peoples

Auckland Art Gallery’s latest big exhibition, “Light from Tate: 1700s to Now” which opens later this month should be a crowd pleaser just because it is vibrant, colourful and playful – all the things that most people expect of art. But the exhibition also explores, expands and explains the nature of art itself without being elitist or obscure. 

The show comes from London’s Tate Gallery and follows on from the successful exhibition “Light Show at the Auckland Art Gallery nearly ten years ago.

It is a multi-sensory blockbuster exhibition featuring nearly 100 works by celebrated artists working across different media including painting, photography, sculpture, installation, drawing and the moving image.

Concepts of space, vision and light are present in much contemporary art and light has fascinated artists for centuries. However, one of the crucial turning points in the artists’ use of light came with Edison’s invention of the incandescent bulb. But even before then artists were fascinated with ideas about light and the means of depiction.

The exhibition showcases the work of some of history’s most thoughtful and enquiring artists as they grapple with light as a subject and medium such as Josef Albers, John Constable, Tacita Dean, Olafur Eliasson, Dan Flavin, Vilhelm Hammershøi, Wassily Kandinsky, Yayoi Kusama, Liliane Lijn, Claude Monet, Lis Rhodes, Bridget Riley, JMW Turner, James Turrell and Pae White.

Traversing three centuries, this expansive exhibition starts in the 18th century and finishes in the present, exploring light in the outdoors, through the lens, in the city and in the home. The show charts artists throughout time as they search for answers to their moral, spiritual and scientific questions through the subject of light.

J M W Turner, Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) – the Morning after the Deluge – Moses Writing the Book of Genesis

The craft of painting is juxtaposed with contemporary installations; Liliane Lijn explores light through solid form alongside JMW Turner while Yayoi Kusama’s The Passing Winter, 2005, immerses viewers in a seemingly infinite expanse of floating, luminescent dots, alongside her forebears, the Impressionists.

Auckland Art Gallery Director Kirsten Lacy says, ‘Light from Tate: 1700s to Now is a sensational exhibition. Every space is a homage to the transformative power of light and to the artists who sought to harness and explore it. Throughout the exhibition, visitors will feel enlivened, inspired and immersed as they experience the sensory and emotional impacts of light.’

Robert Nelson writing in The Age when the show was on in Melbourne last year said it was a “surprising and colourful knockout” show saying that the exhibition took up the theme of light “with the industrial revolution, where artists experimented with atmospheric conditions that limit the visibility of solid forms. The marine pictures of Turner marvellously explore the light-catching calibre of air thick with moisture. Using a combination of transparent glaze layers and opaque scumbles, the artist presents the spray and mists as diaphanous curtains over everything behind them.

John Martin, The Destruction of Pompei and Herculaneum

… Erupting volcanoes also allow Joseph Wright of Derby and John Martin to make imaginary architecture in the sky, balancing explosive fires with tumbling ash and lava”.

“The sublime, the scientific and the sultry are all represented through this focus on light in 19th-century painting. There’s no doubt artists of the industrial age enjoyed painting light, sometimes at the expense of form. The upper half of John Constable’s landscapes are sometimes better painted than the lower half, because he was happier eyeballing the luminous skies than the dirt the light lands upon.”

“As the exhibition progresses, you become aware of a face-off between the art of painting and contemporary installations. The comparisons are often clever and heighten your curiosity to work out what you enjoy responding to.”

“In a room with early-20th-century interiors, a carpet by Philippe Parreno 6.00 PM 2000-6 registers the pattern on the floor that might be made by sunlight coming through a window. But you’ll notice that all the edges are equally sharp, whereas a similar motif that appears in Vilhelm Hammershoi’s painting Interior, Sunlight on the Floor of 1906 correctly shows the edges further from the window as a little fuzzier than those close to the window”.

Bridget Riley, Netaraja

“You cannot beat these painters at their own game. But against that, no one would ever worry that the graphic registration of shadows isn’t optically rigorous. Besides, it’s fun to see the rays from a window embedded in the carpet when the window doesn’t exist”.

“In contrast to the earnest character of the paintings, the installations seem playful. Yayoi Kusama’s silver cube The Passing Winter of 2005 has small circular windows that seem to open up an infinity of mirrored discs. Olafur Eliasson’s sculpture Stardust Particle from 2014 is a spherical frame with internal skins that dangles in a beam of light. The reflections are almost random, in the same way that we might come across tiny bits of burning suns (stardust) that inspired the shape”.


By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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