So, You Fancy a Retrospective?


A major retrospective or survey show is an expectation/wish of many artists considered at the height of, or nearing the end of, their careers. These can be publicly funded affairs on a grand scale at a major public gallery with tours to other centres through to self-funded, personally curated numbers, on a more modest scale at a local venue. Which and what depends on a number of factors.

The History

In NZ ceramics we have had several small scale shows for some of our pioneers – one for Olive Jones, the real ‘pro’ of those early women at Auckland Museum as guest exhibitor of the ASP, one for Pat Perrin that was too small for her stature and abilities in Corban’s Gallery, Henderson and another for  Briar Gardner. Corban’s also offered one for Jovan Rancich,  and his assistant and later successor- Wally Silva, a small-scale commercial maker who learned his trade in Serbia and practiced here after world wanderings, while the NZSP celebrated Elizabeth Lissaman – all modest  exhibitions but all also with most valuable small publications.

On a larger scale, James Mack of The Dowse did a splendid and extensive touring show for Len Castle back in 1994, again with a catalogue – full of useful essays that contextualised Castle in different ways, if somewhat elaborately produced, while Len arranged a couple of his own survey touring shows to launch each of his large, lavishly illustrated, coffee-table sized books.

Auckland Museum did an extensive show for Peter Stichbury curated by Justine Olsen and accompanied by a handsome catalogue, Mirek Smisek received one from Mahara Gallery – the major exhibition venue in his region – accompanied by a most valuable catalogue documenting his intriguing life story and conversion to a creative life. Helen Mason was honoured by her regional institution, Hastings City Art Gallery and a complete, if too modest, documentation of her particular path that she was later able to amplify herself. Yvonne Rust was also honoured in the region, if not her own then the area that appreciated her particular talents most – Christchurch – while Doreen Blumhardt’s teaching as well as her ceramics were celebrated in a publication made by Daphne Brasell Associates Press and her legacy lives in the Arts Foundation created in her name in association with the Dowse Art Gallery.

This leaves two of those pioneering generations. Elizabeth Matheson  as last of those four earliest women is having one prepared by Hawkes Bay Art Gallery and the roundup of the Anglo-oriental roots ‘pioneering’ generation, Barry Brickell, will be completed by The Dowse Art Gallery with a David Craig/Emma Bugden co-curated touring exhibition and an AUP publication to open early 2013 that seems will be well worth the wait.

The second generation of those with roots entwined in those Anglo-oriental philosophies are represented by a large scale survey for Ross Mitchell-Anyon by his local Whanganui Art Gallery with a somewhat brief catalogue  and then  three ‘who got away’ and transformed that way of making and being into something more personal. John Parker had a survey at City Gallery Wellington that co-incided with publication of his hard-cover book covering life and methods. Warren Tippett had his retrospective at Objectspace with a publication covering his work and life that rapidly became overdue for a reprint. both by Moyra Elliott, while Richard Parker’s oeuvre and much larger-scale catalogue were both produced by curator Richard Fahey, again at Objectspace.

More of those who entered ceramics in late ‘60s/’70s and early ‘80s . . . .

Brian Gartside had a modest survey exhibition at Papakura Art Gallery – his local ‘hood’. No publication as I recall.

Graham Storm was featured in the small central space at Gus Fisher Gallery with an aesthetically arranged display that was beautiful but a very small brief publication that did not cover the ground for an oeuvre and practice like Storm’s.

John Crawford had a major survey at the Suter with a publication featuring mainly his paintings and Christine Boswijk also had a major survey show with catalogue at the Suter – for both, their ‘local’.

Bronwynne Cornish will have a major retrospective and publication at the Hawke’s Bay Art Gallery as part of the celebrations for the opening of its extensive building additions and re-fit and the next craft conference in 2013.

I think that covers what has been covered. If there are/were more, please let me know.

The Prospects

Now others of the Parker/Tippett generation must be eyeing up the prospects of their own event and this generation presents some problems for, like the donkey swallowed by the anaconda, there is a bulge as they pass on through to that great wedging bench in the sky for they were, and still are, dominant in numbers and institutions will be stretched to accommodate all.

So, let’s look at potential institutions. . .  and try to remember that every one will have its own agendas far as exhibition policy is concerned not one of which will have, as primary concern, the celebration of the life’s work of a practitioner with muddy hands but will assess according to their own aims and objects for their own particular audiences. Assessment will also predicate upon the gallery’s spaces and equipment plus other resources available – major shows involve major expenditure usually.

The Dowse, formerly the prime choice when it was leader of craft media for the country, now eschews that role but is undertaking the Brickell event in part as it is probably the only one with space to cover all of Brickell’s considerable oeuvre. They also receive support from the Blumhardt Foundation toward the publication for this and may be the only gallery to accommodate both these aims. However the exhibition will tour to other centres. Brickell’s reputation and contribution demands this.

However it seems unlikely that the Dowse will undertake another on such a scale for quite a while.

Objectspace in Auckland has done two so far (Tippett and R. Parker) while jeweller Kobi Bosshard is in sight for later this year. It has to be remembered that Objectspace, through their biannual Masters of Craft series – probably the only part of their programme that will provide for a retrospective – must service not only ceramics but jewellery, textiles, glass, and other craft media practices that might qualify plus the looming giant of design. Having done two ceramists so far as the only representatives, what chance for another in the near future?

Auckland Museum has not offered a venue for craft exhibitions for a very long time. maybe more than ten years. However, they are reconsidering space usage now so there may be more gallery space for temporary exhibitions etc in the future. They are also working on being more accessible to various communities so hopefully the ceramics community will in future be a part of that.

There are some other publicly funded galleries in the Auckland area that could be considered depending upon the home base of the practitioner. If you are, or have been, a local your chances are, naturally, better.

NorthArt in Northcote the North Shore.  While situated behind a small shopping centre this can be avoided by the approach chosen and consists specially designed buildings with good exhibition spaces – pretty well perfect size for anything but the most ambitiously grand retrospective. The library and pleasant outdoor spaces are adjacent.  Not lavishly funded, NorthArt would probably need to make application to CNZ for catalogue funding or the artist can contribute to this. Touring would need to be discussed as this is a staff consuming, expensive optional extra for any gallery.

Lopdell House Gallery- Titirangi will shortly close doors for a major rebuild, extending out to the west and the current major space for exhibitions will convert to commercial space of some kind such as restaurant or shopping venue or ? So, Lopdell will offer a brand new space when it re-opens in 2015 but will not be doing any major shows until then but stage happenings, events and installations/interventions in a temporary venue – still to be determined – until that date. But such premises will probably not suit an extensive retrospective. The Portage will continue but again in the temporary venue for the meantime. However, they may like to begin preparation and facilitation or research for someone’s retrospective towards their new space.

Gus Fisher Gallery is a part of the University of Auckland and as such has a research and educational role involved in their programming. This would not preclude a retrospective of course if the artist’s oeuvre was considered vital enough and demonstrates a notable advancement in knowledge in the chosen area of artistic practice – and they take advice and recommendations here where necessary, from a variety of specialty internal and external advisors. They are taking the Brickell show, in part because the significance of the publication involved is being published by Auckland University Press. Gus Fisher has three spaces – central, which can be added to the main gallery space – which is capacious and well proportioned and a small side gallery.

Papakura Art Gallery could well have interest if you are a part, or have been a part of their community.

Uxbridge in Howick and Corbans in Henderson are both community arts centres offering a range of spaces for activities connected with the arts. They may well be interested to support/provide space for what would probably need to be a self-curated exhibition, particularly if you are a member of their community. They may require space paid for or a donation towards – ask or search the website.

How to go about it?
First and foremost, don’t just bowl in and ask but make an appointment to talk with whoever is the gallery’s designated staff member for first contact. Before you approach take a look at the Gallery’s website because most will give advice about how to go about arranging an exhibition and making a proposal. That way you can be prepared for questions.

After that first meeting a written proposal will be required, either from the artist, their agent or the curator, if one is already arranged. Some galleries will want all/most in writing in the first place – check website.

Galleries will/may also want information upon the following –

Information about the artist and their work plus its significance in the overall picture of the history of NZ ceramic practice.

Research material to hand such as reviews, articles publications and other historical documentation.

Information, if possible, as to potential sources of other background/research material.

Images or samples of some of the work. Remember a retrospective – unless curated by the subject as some have been – are often a ‘warts and all’ activity so as to demonstrate shifts and movements within the oeuvre. While best examples are normally chosen, cherry picking is not usually part of that activity and final choices are those of the curator but of course in consultation with the artist.

Have perhaps some idea of potential opportunities for associated activities and events for the gallery’s public programming.

Resources by way of funding are a plus particularly if you already perhaps have a contract for a publication or a proposal idea for CNZ toward a publication about the work – made either by the artist or the gallery and acceptance for the exhibition may predicate to some extent on such funding success.

CNZ may also need to be approached for a research/curation fee for a specific curator – this will depend upon gallery staff etc.

Remember that no galleries have specialist ceramic curators so do not expect  extensive advance knowledge of the artist’s oeuvre. There may well be some knowledge around and they usually know where to go to for further information.

A Publication?

Publications are expensive projects. However one is usually expected as part of a culmination-of-career show. Many galleries cannot produce one, or only produce a basic small pamphlet/booklet as part of budgeted expenses, so must raise funding in some way for something more elaborate. There are many variables here. The artist may be set to fund a publication himself – this has often been the case, particularly for larger scale/hard cover publications. This can be considered as an investment toward future career occasions such as exhibitions or workshops and where further opportunities for selling are presented. If this cannot be then co-operation from a publisher will be next on the list. There may still be a rare publisher out there which is happy to fully fund a publication with sufficient income in sight to cover the considerable expenses – but I don’t know one. Usually they require a contribution towards expenses for an illustrated art production and that will depend upon what the artist’s ambitions as to scale and reproduction values are concerned. The likely recourse is to CNZ which means another proposal/application. Or you may find a generous patron.

Costings for a publication will include obvious things like print number, hard/soft cover, page number, illustrations number. Other costs will include services like, photography, and subsequent processing for publication which can pretty well double the costs of photography often. Essays – how many, what to be covered, who writes etc. Designer’s fee – high, and there are many dodgy ones out there but useful to know that a print designer usually loves an arty publication to tackle. Finding one with great vision is the issue. Printing costs – cheaper in China but the print management area of the production must know what it is about; paper choice and type of coating which brings out detail in the work and supplies depth for the image. All, or many of these areas must be covered before CNZ is approached. Most important is some distribution scheme – there are boxes of catalogues stuffed away in storage under beds and piled in garages here and there – so very pointless, hence CNZ justifiably makes a requirement for a strategy. See the CNZ website.

So, start looking. Note designers/styles you like, clear white space or many illustrations/ use of fonts/ cover designs/ image editing and placement (sometimes for a big production you also need an image editor as this ensures best use of those images). Scrutinise photographers’ approaches, e.g. style – historical, classic or contemporary/ romantic or neutral environments for the works/ out-of-focus theatricality or clarity of focus? Call publishers about strategies, costs and policies. Read essays on other’s work and think about potential essayists or the curator for yours if the curator is to be the only essayist. Consider a historical context for your work as well as an analysis of your oeuvre and perhaps your life story if that has influence upon your work. They are all possibilities to consider. Decide what you like – you have some say here especially if paying. Do some homework so that you are more clear in requirements and what extra must be found toward what you want.

Unless you have phenomenal resources or staggering talent, you will only get one publication for posterity to read. While any art historian worth some salt will research other than a retrospective publication (a celebratory document after all) for information toward another history, a comprehensive publication covering the oeuvre will be part of significant potential resources.

Decisions will be based upon such as the following-

The calibre of the artist’s work, as evidenced in the proposal, and a track record of significance in the chosen area of practice. Just making gorgeous work is not enough; there must be evidence that the practice has importance, and probably a major contribution of some sort such as an originality, uniqueness, or something other by being a leader rather than a follower  (for example) within the bigger picture of NZ ceramics. It’s your job to present that evidence.

Potential for a publication and what is still involved in this process. Galleries as well as artists like publications with their name on – in the end this is what remains for posterity, along with surviving work, of a lifetime’s production as a rule, and it goes to every library, is significant for collectors and the secondary market and (even better) may generate income.

The extent of clear planning and preparation as evidenced in the proposal.  This may include: the level of detailing in relation to budget and feasibility; evidence of commitment from other parties and support by other agencies such as CNZ.

As much as anything, decisions will be made according to the balance of exhibitions that are already calendared and how your proposal fits with whatever else is programmed.

Finally, as you may have gathered by now, this won’t happen overnight. Some galleries are already largely booked till 2014. The biggest galleries work farthest ahead but often 12-18 months to 2 years is usual. But it will happen! Or at least, it can, but it’s no good awaiting an offer, those are rare. Be prepared to contribute to the whole exercise – it’s mostly interesting and fun!

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1 Comment

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One response to “So, You Fancy a Retrospective?

  1. carys davies

    Wow – a great introduction to key NZ makers for me in the UK as well as great advice. Really, thanks! carys

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