All I want for Christmas is … Te Papa’s Hosts present some of this season’s art works in their very own Ngā Toi Christmas wish list!
The current season of Ngā Toi has a great variety of artworks, from 300-hundred-year-old dresses and beloved iconic New Zealand paintings to a musical washing machine and an endoskeleton skull from the ‘Terminator’ movie series. I feel bold enough to say, there really is something for everyone.
We as Hosts are lucky enough to spend our days surrounded by these treasures, and in view of the Christmas spirit, we have compiled our very own ‘Ngā Toi Christmas wish list’.
We tried not to be too greedy, but it is very difficult considering the goods to choose from.
Hopefully this will give you a better idea of what Ngā Toi has to offer you this Summer, and inspire you to create your own wish list.
But please don’t be too disappointed if you don’t get what you asked for – you can always come and see it here in Ngā Toi.
Without further ado, here are the works that the Hosts have humbly asked for.
Vivienne: William Hogarth’s Marriage a la mode
All I want for Christmas is William Hogarth’s Marriage a la mode print series, because it would give hours of pleasure deciphering all the details.
Hogarth was an English painter and engraver living in 18th-century London – he painted and made prints of flawed people and satirised the so-called polite and genteel manners and mores of his time. In Marriage a la mode (fashionable marriage).
We see gouty Lord Squanderfield proudly showing his lineage going back to William the Conqueror, but who is in debt with a half-built Palladian mansion seen outside the window, marrying off his vain heir to a wealthy merchant’s daughter. The upset young woman is being soothed by the lawyer, appropriately named Silvertongue, with whom she will be seen having an affair later in the series.
Hogarth first painted the dramatic scenes, then sold on subscription the engraved print series before the prints had even been made. He was a canny businessman as well as an artist – in an age when middle class merchants were becoming wealthier.
His scenes are so rich in detail they could easily have been turned into a play, but you know it’s not going to end well in a Hogarth series! Along with author Henry Fielding and actor David Garrick (who all knew each other), Hogarth helped define his age; one sometimes called ‘Hogarth’s England’.
Denise: Jarran Djan Billycan painting
I would love one of the paintings by aboriginal artist Jarran Djan Billycan that feature in the Art Calls video by Tracey Moffatt. I have recently read The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin which served to remind me of the importance of the embodied history in the land for these people, and gave me further insights into the similar concept for Tangata Whenua o Aotearoa.
Norrie: Ad Reinhardt’s 10 Screenprints
Whilst there are many gorgeous works to choose from in the current season of Ngā Toi, the Ad Reinhardt prints continue to pull me into their dark magnetic fields with a gravitational force seldom encountered in works on paper and of such modest dimension.
Deep within their seemingly flat surfaces lie the most exquisite tonal shifts and woven plains of dark light.
The richness that’s to be found in Reinhardt’s 10 Screenprints only reveals itself with intimate and prolonged engagement.
A sense of peace, of profound stillness, and a powerful energy, all coexist within these astonishing prints.
Not wanting to appear greedy, I have tried to select a single work from the series to receive as Te Papa’s generous Xmas gift to me this year, but I simply can’t settle on one work alone.
It would be criminal to break up this beautiful series of prints, and so I am asking please may I be gifted all 10 works.
To save unnecessary expense, you may forgo gift-wrapping – I’ll take them in their frames and pack them in conservation bubble-wrap for transport to my private gallery on the side of Mt Kaukau.
Thank you again Te Papa for this overwhelmingly generous offer.
Yours in deep gratitude,
Annika: Hans Sebald Beham’s ‘A mask held by two genii’
I’m very practical you see, so all I want for Christmas is a very tiny present: Hans Sebald Beham’s A mask held by two genii.
I know from experience that the smallest gifts under the Christmas tree often turn out to be the most precious ones, and this small print is no exception.
It is roughly about the size of my drivers’ license, so it can easily fit into my wallet or the book I am reading during my commute to work. This is probably similar to what its earliest owners did as well.
With the invention of the printing press around 1440, small portable books, much like the little German song and prayer book which you can also see in the exhibition (or the novel I am reading on the train during my commute), were first introduced in Europe. Prints such as this one could be taken on your journeys, hidden within the pages of these books.
This is how many artistic ideas spread from Italy to Germany, for example. Thus, even though this is one of the smallest artworks in the gallery, it was part of a wave that had one of the biggest effects on the artistic development of the Renaissance.
Also, being German myself, I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic looking at Beham’s print. Following the footsteps of Albrecht Dürer, Beham proudly displays his signature at the bottom of the image, which today is to be expected, but back then was quite revolutionary – a sign that these artists had succeeded in raising the status of their profession.
I might be a bit cheeky and additionally ask for a little magnifying glass, so that I may marvel at the intricate line work and incredible details of this print – the skill and craftsmanship of these engravers still baffles me.
It is truly a technical and visual delight.
Angela: Derrick Cherrie Studio
A piece that has been on display in the gallery for over a year is Derrick Cherrie’s Studio which is a half scale model of an artist studio.
Studio is an example of life imitating art. People are now living in tiny houses like Studio and I have talked with visitors who say their apartment in New York is probably smaller than Studio!
It reminds me of a house in the bush at Pinehaven, less than a 30 minute drive away from Wellington, called the Samurai house.
Check it out and see if you are reminded of Studio too.
Anyway, I’ve had several discussions with visitors and we’ve wondered if the toilet really is half scale – it doesn’t look it to me.
However, I asked one of my colleagues who had been involved in the installation and she assured me the room is very small – so I wonder, is my mind playing tricks on me?
I also talk to visitors about my Studio wish list, how I’d like to play inside but can’t (a gentle reminder not to cross the white line), how I’d like to chop up tiny pieces of wood to light the wood-burner and about my plans for an elaborate system of racks and pulleys to dry laundry while the wood-burner is going.
So I guess you could say all I want for Christmas is to have Studio as a playhouse!
All the best for the festive season,
Carol: Rita Angus’ Fay and Jane Birkinshaw
I wish I could have the painting of Fay and Jane Birkinshaw for Christmas! I have grown to love this painting a lot since I spoke to an enthusiastic visitor about it.
The visitor was delighted to see it on display because he knew Fay well, having worked with her at a university in England. He explained that this was when Fay had established a name for herself as the well-known author, Fay Weldon, and had developed into a very interesting character.
He was also able to give me a better understanding of the New Zealand context when Fay and Jane were painted; it was not long before Fay’s mother took the two girls to England leaving her father behind. I feel a little sad for this painting as it was ‘loathed’ by Fay’s mother who did not take it to England with her!
What really attracts me to this painting is its modern, distinctive style for which Rita Angus became recognized, and for what was so powerfully demonstrated in the exhibition, RITA ANGUS Life and Vision here at Te Papa in 2008.
The hard edges, vibrant colours, clarity and simplicity are what makes this portrait of Fay and Jane Birkinshaw so striking; it stands out from all the other paintings displayed near it. Indeed I would love to own a painting by our most famous woman artist who is known so well for pioneering modern painting in NZ!
Sara: Rembrandt’s Self-portrait in a velvet cap with plume
If I could have all but one taonga in the entire Ngā Toi art collection, currently on display, I would choose Rembrandt h van Rijn etching Self-portrait in a velvet cap with plume (1638). With this work Rembrandt’s uncanny ability to capture the inner psychological state of a sitter’s character is clearly evident.
When I stare at this print, I don’t see a passive old man but rather an elderly scholar, pensive in demeanour and returning stare just as scrutinising as the one I place on him. Indeed if there was a speech bubble attached to the work, it would almost certainly say “can I help you?” said in tone tinged with irony.
From an artistic perspective, the self-portrait shows all the trappings of a brilliant draftsman who shows a confident grasp of anatomy and quite clearly knows his chiaroscuro – showing the contrast between light and shade. Moreover the variety of line and cross-hatching mimics the type of looser style Rembrandt would later adopt in paintings, following the years leading up to his death in 1669.
As for the work’s the new location, I would put it in a place where telling the truth would be imperative, so perhaps a court room placed in direct sightline of a witness, as the raw honesty from which Rembrandt places upon his self-portraits would surely inspire those to speak the truth, regardless of what others may think.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from the Hosts at Te Papa.
Don’t forget to visit us in Ngā Toi | Arts Te Papa this Summer to see these and many other wondrous art works – and feel free to tell us about your wish list!
Note: Do not be alarmed! I would never actually put a Beham print in my wallet.