“The World Over”

City Gallery Wellington

Given that in 1642 a Dutch cartographer was the first European to initiate an encounter between Maori and European cultures, it seemed appropriate that this exhibition with its theme of “art in the age of globalization” should be set both in Wellington and in Amsterdam. Ideally a reviewer would have traveled directly from “The World Over,” in Wellington, to Amsterdam—very nearly at the opposite point on the globe—to view the other half of the show, “Under Capricorn,” at the Stedelijk. As it was, after traveling to New Zealand, I reached Amsterdam just in time to see that portion of the exhibit in packing crates, but thanks to the interactive CD-ROMs commissioned to accompany the show, I was able to move through both institutions at my own pace by peering into the virtual space of a computer screen.

In Wellington, Gary Simmons displayed a wall drawing of the lighthouse at the northernmost tip of the North Island; Jan Dibbets showed a panoramic photograph of a horizon line; and Michael Parekowhai exhibited Maori mannequins wearing name tags saying “Hello—my name is Hori.” Clifford P. Tjapaltjarri’s Warlugulong, 1977, an acrylic map recalling Aboriginal desert paintings, was particularly admirable. Inevitably, however, the show’s emblematic artist was the late Colin McCahon, a New Zealander who was a major Modernist figure. After a long apprenticeship during a time when his country was a colony of England, McMahon was strongly affected by an encounter with Abstract Expressionism during a 1958 visit to the United States. Incorporating Maori texts into many of his large-scale paintings—some which were presented in Amsterdam—McMahon anticipated present-day multicultural concerns. His beautiful and original Walk, 1973, which was displayed on three walls of the City Gallery, depicts the coast of the Tasman Sea. Both shows also included strong pieces by internationally known figures such as James Lee Byars, Mat Mullican, and Nam June Paik. The most interesting aspect of the project, however, was not the works that were included, but rather the daring use by cocurators Wystan Curnow and Dorine Mignot of postmodern technology to link distant sites.

“The World Over” and “Under Capricorn” raised the question, How can art adequately reflect our experience of space and time when it is possible to circle the planet in mere tens of hours, and view distant museum spaces via a computer? One might seek precedents in Holland’s Golden Age, when Jacob van Ruisdael painted the Dutch landscape from impossibly high viewpoints, and Peter Saenredam anticipated digital image-processing by incorporating fictional alterations into realistic church interiors. In the seventeenth century, a worldview could be projected using perspectival constructions, an option that is obviously inadequate when CD-ROMs permit the juxtaposition of sites on opposite sides of the planet.

The shows made one thing clear: viewing painting and sculpture on a CD-ROM draws attention to the aura of the original objects, reemphasizing their material qualities. What, then, are the consequences of this—and is it possible for different cultures to meet on an equal footing? Without providing any clear-cut answers, this ambitious exhibition was an honest attempt to engage these fundamental questions.

David Carrier