New Zealand artist’s new works promise to surprise at GOMA

Michael Parekowhai / New Zealand (1968-) / He Kōrero Pūrākau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river 2011 / Wood, ivory, brass, lacquer, steel, ebony, paua shell, resin, mother of pearl, automotive paint / Purchased 2011, with the assistance of the Friends of Te Papa / Collection: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa / Photography: Michael Hall / Image courtesy the artist and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

A two-storey family home containing a large polished stainless steel sculpture of a prominent historical figure and a super-sized wall built of scaled-up coloured Cuisenaire rods are among the new works to be unveiled in the first major solo exhibition of renowned New Zealand contemporary artist, Michael Parekowhai.

‘Michael Parekowhai: The Promised Land’, which spans two decades of Parekowhai’s artistic practice, will be on display at GOMA from 28 March to 21 June 2015.

QAGOMA Director Chris Saines said ‘The Promised Land’ would transform spaces in GOMA into an immersive environment filled with sculptures and photographs spanning the breadth of Michael Parekowhai’s expansive practice.

‘In addition to the extraordinary new works such as the dividing wall made of Cuisenaire rods –the brightly coloured teaching aids that have appeared regularly in the artist’s work, ‘The Promised Land’ will also feature important loans and a selection from the Gallery’s Collection, the largest holdings of Parekowhai’s work outside New Zealand.’

Collection works include The Horn of Africa 2006, a glossy black sculpture of a fur seal balancing a grand piano on its nose, and photographs of elaborate flower arrangements from The Consolation of Philosophy series, each named for a different European battlefield where soldiers from the Māori Pioneer Battalion fought and died in World War I.

Exhibition curator, Maud Page, QAGOMA Deputy Director, Collection and Exhibitions, said the Gallery has had a longstanding relationship with Parekowhai, who explores the creation and consumption of contemporary culture and plays with perceptions of history, space and scale in his artistic practice.

‘Michael has been represented in the Gallery’s Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT) in 1999 and 2006, in ‘Unnerved: The New Zealand Project’ in 2010, and his public art work The World Turns 2011–12, a life-sized bronze sculpture of an elephant and local kuril (water rat) is next to the river outside GOMA.

‘Parekowhai’s work uses humour to explore the intersections between national narratives, colonial histories and popular culture. He is renowned for bringing together multiple layers of meaning in a single object, with in-jokes and snippets of autobiography sitting side-by-side with cultural critique and art historical playfulness.’

On loan to the exhibition from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Parekowhai’s He Kōrero Pūrākau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river 2011, is an elaborately carved, fully functional, red Steinway concert grand piano.

‘Ten years in the making, the work was the centrepiece to the artist’s 2011 Venice Biennale installation, and will be played by invited performers throughout the exhibition – an act which Parekowhai sees as completing the work.’

Michael Parekowhai is Professor in Fine Arts at the University of Auckland. His exhibition history spans almost two decades, showing regularly in New Zealand and internationally in major exhibitions including the Venice Biennale (2011), ‘Biennale of Sydney’ (2002); ‘Gwangju Biennale’ (2004) as well as the ‘Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (1999 and 2006).

The Gallery will produce the first substantial publication devoted to Parekowhai’s practice to accompany the exhibition.