Critics’ Picks

View of “Giovani Intra,” 2018. From left: Twin Intoxicant; White Powder; Pharmakon Squib, all 1992.

View of “Giovani Intra,” 2018. From left: Twin Intoxicant; White Powder; Pharmakon Squib, all 1992.


Giovanni Intra

Michael Lett
312 Karangahape Road Newton
March 21–April 21, 2018

The death of a young artist is lighter fuel for the blaze of mythologizing that inevitably follows. But Giovanni Intra was enshrined in legend well before he died suddenly in New York in 2002 at the age of thirty-four. At the time, Intra had been running China Art Objects, the LA gallery he cofounded, having also established himself as a writer and editor. His earliest work, made in his native New Zealand, mined the meanings of punk, religion, and pharmacology with a luminescent and at times provocative energy, and he funneled his pursuits through a Bataillean idea of subculture, which he once described as “a kind of offal, a waste product of the homogeneous system, a commodity produced but unaccounted for, an unplugged abyss in culture.”

It makes sense then, given that artmaking had become secondary to his interest in writing and running a gallery in the US, that the only posthumous exhibitions of Intra’s own artwork have occurred in New Zealand. Central to the showing of his work here is a series of large-scale paintings from 1992 that contain scrawled phrases such as “Jesus this is Iggy” or “Pharmakon Squib.” Two early video works, As Pure As My Fucking Thoughts and The Ring, both 1990, journal continuous streams of inexplicable activity—including Intra performing some sort of funereal ritual—often accompanied by hysterical laughter. There are also vitrines of Intra’s drawings, letters he wrote, and photographs. Perhaps these material products of his early thought do offer new insights into the bearing of his life’s work, and as such it is significant that they are seen here together for the first time. But it is a struggle to fit Intra back into an exhibition, or to get to know him through an archive; he spread himself too far and too deep into memories, stories, and anecdotes. His friends just wish he were still here. We all do.