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Angels and Aristocrats at Auckland Art Gallery

Angels and Aristocrats. Curated by Mary Kisler.
Auckland Art Gallery. Now till June 10.

When Angels & Aristocrats (Auckland Art Gallery until June 10, free entry) was announced, I groaned collectively with Auckland’s art-enthused youth. Yet another exhibition to cater to the Baby-boomers whose idea of art fits very neatly inside a gilded frame. I am thrilled to report to you today that I was wrong. There is one reason for this: Mary Kisler (AAG’s Senior Curator of the Mackelvie Collection of International Art).

Kisler’s curation leads you through the Level One Exhibition Spaces whilst simultaneously navigating you through Early European Art in its many forms. We are greeted by Marco d’Oggioni’s Madonna & Child (c. 1490) – you know it’s going to be good from then. This sensitive and technically faultless work sets the tone for first room; a breathtaking collection of religious works. The inclusion of post-Reformation Dutch works thoughtfully completed the presentation of devotional art in Europe. Next we’re led through a cluttered landscapes room (the number of works in this room didn’t allow the few strong pieces to shine), though the marble mosaic table was a real treat. Following this, we’re taken through portraiture, followed by genre painting. The logical layout allows works to both breathe in their own right and dialogue with one another. The cherry on top was the addition of sculpture, furniture and other delightful oddities (including some hilarious pre-Kitsch dog ceramics and delightfully creepy entymological diplays). Nice work, Mary.

James Mackelvie was a founding member of the Council of the Auckland Institute (now Auckland Museum) whose contribution to civic life in Auckland continues to be felt via the collection he accrued on Auckland’s behalf upon his return to Europe. Others shared Mackelvie’s vision for a collection of European art for New Zealand: Angels & Aristocrats brings together works held in collections nationwide. With such a proud patriotism in our art history and an exciting contemporary art scene, international works can often be overlooked. I have spent countless hours in galleries up and down all over New Zealand and it seems that the exhibition of New Zealand works or contemporary work is definitely favoured over showcasing international historic works (due to both logistics and interest, one would assume).

Now, let me make one thing clear here. I LOVE New Zealand Art. Rita Angus is my homegirl and the irony of viewing Angels & Aristocrats in the space that last year housed Home AKL was not lost on me. So, what on earth am I trying to say? That Angels & Aristocrats is a great show – a thought provoking and carefully curated counterbalance to the exciting contemporary spectacular that is the Triennial. Moreover, it’s a rare opportunity for the public to be exposed to Early European Art. Our isolation means that works of historic weight don’t often make it here and I applaud Kisler’s celebration of the works housed in our fair nation. The devotional images and bugs are reason enough to visit, never mind the free entry!

Luke Alexander
#WaxingLyrical
@lukealexwilson

Photo Credit: Mackelvie Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki with additions by Luke Alexander

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