Yvonne’s Todd’s survey exhibition at City Gallery Wellington Creamy Psychology is both seductive and creepy; two words which also describe Todd’s practice at large. I’ve always liked it but have never been sure why. Off-kilter scenes featuring women on the verge of tears or in tears or post tears, surreal compositions of plumbing pipes, a pregnant lady in space, dolled up young pageant girls, women stoically returning your voyeur’s gaze, dressed in garb from the 70s and 80s; all uncanny and uncomfortable.
This is the first time City Gallery has given as much space to one artist and Todd has made sure there is a lot to see. Some rooms worked better than others. At times it felt as though I was looking at “fillers”; as in those works (like filler songs on an album) were a bit samey or seemingly weak in comparison to the majority of the exhibition. Perhaps a smaller number of photographs in those areas, with more breathing space, would have been more effective.
I’m not usually a fan of props or research/prep work as part of an exhibition but the vintage designer gowns and room full of sketchbooks and magazine clippings really added something, providing insight into Todd’s processes.
Another distinct highlight included one of two moving image works: Denim Seagull (2013). There was a similar film at Todd’s exhibition at McLeavey Gallery last year and I was impressed then too. Displayed on a large screen, rotated 90 degrees, with beautifully sharp colours; you can’t help but be swept away by her eyes, hair, cheekbones, skin and folds in the dress. The woman, in tie-dyed denim, sways and twitches while looking directly into the camera. Transfixed in her eyes, I barely notice the seagull soundtrack. She was looking straight at me, returning my voyeuristic gaze. I was being analysed, judged, as I too was judging her. Beautifully captivating.
Refreshingly, one of the upstairs spaces housed The wall of man (2009), portraying the male in such a visually female centred show. These men, in their more senior years, all seem to have succeeded in whatever line of work they specialised in. Frank Butcher from the British soap opera EastEnders popped into my head, but these guys appear more sophisticated than that. What makes this room special is the pairing of The wall of man with the only photograph of breasts in the exhibition – Did Anybody Tell You That You’re Pretty When You’re Angry? (2010). The men all seem to stare or leer at the topless female. This sets an atmosphere: instead of having respect for these well-to-do father figures they transform into sleazy uncles, the type who enjoy throwing dollar bills at the topless girl in a seedy club.
I spent a long time wondering around Creamy Psychology and revisiting some rooms in the same visit. The works hooked me in and so much so that I can’t wait for the accompanying book, to find out more about the artist and her practice. You may end up feeling uneasy or perplexed at times but this is a great exhibition with a delicious, creamy palette.