View of 5th Auckland Triennial: “If you were to live here . . . ,” 2013. Center: Michael Lin, Atelier Bow-Wow, and Andrew Barrie, Model Home, 2013. Auckland Art Gallery.

View of 5th Auckland Triennial: “If you were to live here . . . ,” 2013. Center: Michael Lin, Atelier Bow-Wow, and Andrew Barrie, Model Home, 2013. Auckland Art Gallery.

5th Auckland Triennial

Various Venues

View of 5th Auckland Triennial: “If you were to live here . . . ,” 2013. Center: Michael Lin, Atelier Bow-Wow, and Andrew Barrie, Model Home, 2013. Auckland Art Gallery.

For this edition of the Auckland Triennial, titled “If you were to live here . . . ,” the French-Chinese curator Hou Hanru, a veteran of the biennial/triennial circuit with more than a dozen such megashows under his belt—Venice, Shanghai, Lyon, Istanbul, etc.—decided to disperse the presentation throughout the city. But the Auckland Art Gallery, newly refurbished and hugely expanded, remained a major hub, where Hou cleverly integrated the triennial’s contemporary works into the collection. His thoughtful curation both foregrounded high points of the institution’s holdings—the nineteenth-century Photorealist portraits of Maori leaders by the Austro-Hungarian painter Gottfried Lindauer are worth a trip to New Zealand on their own—and produced provocative juxtapositions of the historical and the contemporary. One such memorable moment was the installation by Claire Fontaine of neon signs reading FOREIGNERS EVERYWHERE in Maori, Samoan, Chinese, Korean, Hindi, and French—new works in an ongoing series begun in 2005—amid early European masterpieces in the gorgeous Victorian-style Mackelvie Gallery. Another striking combination of old and new was the display of Michael Lin’s Model Home, 2013, developed in collaboration with Andrew Barrie and the Japanese architecture firm Atelier Bow-Wow, amid the museum’s collection of New Zealand modernism. The paper-and-wood house was slightly too big for the space, forcing visitors to engage with the artworks on the walls—and with one another—at often uncomfortably close range.

While participants such as Yto Barrada, Anri Sala, or Allora & Calzadilla might be familiar to the avid biennial/triennial visitor, the most striking pieces were by New Zealand–based artists with less of an international profile. Many of these addressed the central question of how to reimagine the relationship between local and global after the extensive discussions of postcolonialism in the 1990s. Maddie Leach’s video The Most Difficult Problem, 2013, for example, takes its title from the memoirs of the cytologist James Brontë Gatenby, who studied a specific type of New Zealand glowworm. Right of Way, 2013, by the Samoan-born, New Zealand–based artist Janet Lilo examines the concept of community by looking at a particular Auckland neighborhood. Luke Willis Thompson’s Untitled, 2012, speaks to the city’s gentrification and accompanying racial tensions, but, unlike Lilo, Thompson takes a negative view of multiculturalism, a term only recently introduced in New Zealand, where until lately ethnic conversations were centered on Māori (indigenous) versus pakeha (white). Thompson’s piece is a set of three roller doors and a security camera extracted from a local house. The residence had been tagged by a young Māori boy, who was then stabbed to death by its middle-aged pakeha owner. But indigenous/white conflicts are no longer the only ones at issue. Auckland’s rapid population growth is in large part due to a big influx of immigrants from northern and Southeast Asia. Hou’s curatorial strategy involved inserting, sensitively and with local conditions in mind, a strong dose of an international artistic and intellectual discourse that touched on this and other issues relevant to Auckland.

The title “If you were to live here . . .” resonated most strongly in the portion of the exhibition housed in the primarily Polynesian suburb of Otara. The experience of visiting the Fresh Gallery there turned most triennial visitors into voyeurs, since most white locals had likely never visited the space; it was precisely this strategy of drawing people out of their cultural habits and comfort zones that elevated the entire exhibition from simply an accumulation of artworks at a given site into a truly meaningful undertaking, crystallizing the most pressing local issues of the day. Here, the large-scale, collaborative mural by San Francisco–based artists Emory Douglas and Rigo 23 and New Zealander Wayne Youle spoke of the complexities of public space, community identity, and gentrification, probing the challenges of representing local concerns in a global world. While Hou is by now known for taking artists and visitors into overlooked or marginalized areas of the cities he works in, his strategy still exerts an effect, making clear what the curator means when he describes (perhaps a bit naively, but also poignantly) biennials and triennials as places for producing new aesthetic forms and social spaces. As a living process, he says, these events are occasions to see not only art but also real interactions among artists, the public, a city, and the world.

Jens Hoffmann