Auckland Art Fair, May 1-5, 2019
VIP Preview, 11am, Wednesday 1 May
Vernissage, 5pm, Wednesday 1 May
Art Fair Party, 5pm, Friday 3 May
For the 2019 edition of the Auckland Art Fair, Bergman Gallery presents a group show of brand new paintings by four renowned Polynesian artists, Andy Leleisi’uao (Samoa/New Zealand), Mark Cross (Niue/ New Zealand) Benjamin Work (Tonga) and Mahiriki Tangaroa (Cook Islands).
From his Wallace Arts Trust Paramount award residency at the International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP) in New York, undertaken July-November 2018, Andy Leleisi’uao will debut his series, A Diasporic Pulse of Faith & Patience. Leleisi’uao’s recent works extend the artist’s premise of an emergent society, re-imagined as a parallel universe, where the traditional human foibles of inequality, injustice and intolerance are constantly broken down and reconstructed in an endless endeavor to build utopia. Pacific realist painter Mark Cross presents a new, large-scale water painting, Coastal Cacophony. Cross’s analysis confronts the fragile state of the human condition, its fraught conflict with itself and its corrosive relationship with nature. Cross’s commentary, while Pacific based, easily translates within current global headlines. Cook Islands artist Mahiriki Tangaroa’s new paintings are multifaceted symphonies of colour, shape and form. Fauna and pareu patterns, Tivaivai motif and traditional iconography merge together, the artist’s distinct compositions reflecting insightful observations of a contemporary Pacific Island culture struggling to reconcile past and present values.
Benjamin Work presents a new series of paintings for the Auckland Art Fair entitled Motutapu (Sacred Island). Motutapu, a place name present throughout Polynesia – New Zealand, French Polynesia, Tonga, Cook Islands & Samoa – Fanuatapu, was a place of sanctuary from internal wars, or a place for negotiation, a middle ground, a place for rejuvenation as well as a place to launch new journeys. Benjamin’s new body of work takes him on a journey to these gateways throughout Polynesia, the artists distinctive warrior characters link time, place and purpose as the artist navigates relational spaces and connections to his ancestral environment and questions their contemporary relevance.
Andy Leleisi’uao is a significant Pacific artist living and working in New Zealand. Over the past 20 years Leleisi’uao’s style has morphed from highly volatile, expressive paintings and sculpture into sophisticated stories reflecting the artist’s inner space. Through his more recent work, Andy has created alternative universes, emergent societies populated by strange creatures that are free of traditional human prejudice. It is a genesis point, a veritable human reset button. His influence range is enormous, he draws from ancient & modern history, literary history, art history, pop culture history, world headlines, personal experiences, he rarely leaves a stone unturned. He tells the story of what we can be as a species, regardless of our cultural stature, religious convictions, skin colour or sexual orientation.
A full time artist since 1996, Andy’s CV is accomplished in exhibitions, awards, and residencies. His work is included in the permanent collections of the Pataka Art + Museum; Museum of New Zealand – Te Papa Tongarewa; Auckland Art Gallery – Toi O Tāmaki; Chartwell Collection; New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade; The Wallace Arts Trust; Auckland University; Canterbury University; Otago University; Manukau City; Pacific Business Trust; Casula Powerhouse, Sydney, and the Museum of Ethnography, Frankfurt. Most recently, Andy is the recipient of the 26th Annual Wallace Arts Trust Paramount Award 2017 and completed a 5 month residency at the International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP) in New York City in 2018.
Mahiriki Tangaroa: Trained as a photographer, Tangaroa transitioned to painting in Rarotonga and found inspiration in the ancient and customary Cook Islands art and artifacts she researched at the National Museum such as the God of the Ocean, Tangaroa, the God of agriculture and war, Rongo and the unnamed Aitutaki goddess. Tangaroa has been a catalyst for Rarotonga’s arts community, organizing multiple artist residencies and training workshops for established and aspiring artists.
Through her art, curating, and advocacy, Tangaroa challenges artists and audiences to consider the impacts of cultural imperialism: “The arrival of Christianity in the Cook Islands brought great changes in the arts. The acceptability of decorating functional objects for ceremonial purposes managed to survive, but the making of figurative gods, tattooing, and tapa-making ceased almost completely. Elimination of these practices destroyed evidence of [Cook Islands] artistic history and is one of the main contributing factors to the absence of certain designs, symbols, and motifs in the art produced today.” These concerns fuel her artistic practice. By re-constructing customary symbols interspersed with tapa or pareu patterns, she draws attention to persistence of Cook Islands culture and the evolving nature of identity.
Mark Cross: Born in Auckland in 1955, Mark Cross began making art during his mid teens. At the age of 23 he moved with his family to his wife’s village, Liku, on the island of Niue and it was during these early years that a strong philosophic and stylistic foundation was established for his career as an artist. Cross now divides his time between his studios in Niue and New Zealand. Although the work is hyper realistic in it’s detail, reference to these countries is limited to the use of local elements for the creation of a timeless, lateral world where his works act out and question the foibles of humanity but never try to proffer answers.
Benjamin Work: Benjamin is a core member of the international art collective, TMD, and is also an active member of the Tongan art collective, No’o Fakataha. With a solid grounding in aerosol painting, his initial creative output centered around sub/pop-cultural influences that emerged from North America in the 1970s -1990s. Since then, Benjamin has continued his journey of ancestral discovery and steadily developed his interests and research into aspects of Tongan history and culture.
Benjamin’s practice extends across a diverse range of projects, which include large scale public murals, commercial print based media, paintings, photography and performance. Combining an ongoing investigation into the symbolic use of colour, kula (red) and `uli (black), with a strong interest in Tongan history, Ngatu (bark cloth) making, Kupesi (designs and motifs), and the heliaki (semiotics) of the Povāi (ancient Tongan war clubs), his work forms as a contemporary point which furthers the parallels that can be drawn between established Tongan traditions and practices, and the spiritual and social significance these have for Tongans within the Pacific diaspora. The bold visual language of his work references historical narratives, iconography, symbolism, and design elements that are particular to Tongan culture, which are also firmly positioned amidst notions connected with Ta and Va (time and space) Tatau (symmetry), Potupotutatau (harmony) and Faka `ofa `ofa (beauty). Benjamin has exhibited in Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, North America, Rarotonga and Tonga where he travels frequently.
Auckland Art Fair 2019
By Rachel Smith
The day before the Auckland Art Fair opens, there is the sound of electric drills and hammers. Pieces of art are carefully unwrapped by gloved hands and large scale works hung. There are stories of broken down removal vans and late arrivals. A scissor lift drives through The Cloud, between and around people and art works, and into the Bergman Gallery booth. It stops within centimetres of Mark Cross’s painting, Coastal Cacophony. Lighting is adjusted and the white tipped waves, the depths and reflections, leap from canvas to the eye.
Bergman Gallery booth is set up by midday. There is a state of readiness for the days to come, starting with the Wednesday’s VIP viewing and opening night, followed by public viewings from Thursday through to Sunday. This year Bergman Gallery is showing new work by four Polynesian artists, Mark Cross (Niue /New Zealand), Benjamin Work (Tonga), Mahiriki Tangaroa (Cook Islands) and Andy Leleisi’uao (Samoa/New Zealand).
Leleisi’uao’s paintings cover one wall of the booth, 7 of the 12 panels from his series, A Diasporic Pulse of Faith & Patience. The smaller panels were painted this year in New Zealand, while the larger four were completed last year during hisWallace Arts Trust Paramount award residency at the International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP) in New York. They are an extension of Leleisi’uao’s re-imagined universe “where the traditional human foibles of inequality, injustice and intolerance are constantly broken down and reconstructed in an endless endeavour to build utopia,” says Ben Bergman, director of Bergman Gallery.
On the opposing wall is one of Tangaroa’s paintings, her distinctive style of reconstructed customary Cook Islands symbols interspersed with tapa or pareu patterns. “Each of my paintings are of course records of observations, experiences and recent events. There is a particular piece of importance In the Arms of Custodians, which is a commentary on last years proposed Avana development,” says Tangaroa, this work now in a private collection in Rarotonga. “I considered this as a critical issue – this incident, I believe, revealed that as a country we are very fortunate to have a traditional system that can respond to issues which may potentially threaten the culture and livelihood of the people.”
Wednesday morning and the Auckland weather gods are again happy, the sky and sea a ridiculous bright blue. Come 11am and there is a queue at the front door. Inside it is a different world to the day before. There is excitement and nervous anticipation beneath a façade of calm. It’s a good thing if Wednesday goes well, although Bergman has had it go both ways over the years.
The Auckland Art fair has a long and fluid history. Initially established by those within the industry, 2016 marked new ownership by North Port Events and the sixth edition of the Auckland Art Fair over a 10 year period. Since then there have been two more, 2018 and this year. Bergman Gallery is one of 41 galleries represented in 2019, ranging across the Pacific Rim from New Zealand to Australia, Shanghai, Jakarta and Santiago. They are the only gallery present from the Pacific Islands. “It puts you front and centre – we build our international client base here,” says Bergman, the art fair providing exposure to public and private art collectors, galleries and institutions outside of the Cook Islands.
It is no easy task to be selected. Entry is by application only with limited spaces available. Add to this the cost to the gallery, particularly those travelling from overseas, and it is a major project in financial and logistical terms. Bergman acknowledges that the sponsorship he receives from the Cook Islands business community is a “key part of the success of the art fair.” Bergman was first advised to apply back in the 90’s, when Bergman Gallery was known as BCA. The gallery didn’t get in despite a history of showing work at VOLTA in New York. The next time Bergman applied in 2016 he was successful and the gallery has been a part of every Auckland Art Fair since.
In 2016 Bergman Gallery presented work by artists Tangaroa, Leleisi’uao and Sylvia Marsters. Marsters and Leleisi’uao were again shown in 2018, as well as Cross, the booth becoming a hub for Auckland based Pacific artists to reconnect. It was also a successful year in terms of sales, with Marsters Gardenia paintings proving so popular that they were being bought as they were hung.
Opening night and The Cloud fills up. Visitors come back again and again to talk over potential purchases. “Do you think if you spent more time with it?” one woman quietly asks her partner of Leleisi’uao’s panels. At the Bergman Gallery booth, artists Leleisi’uao, Work and Marsters are there to support the gallery, to talk with friends and visitors. Sir James Wallace wanders through to view Leleisi’uao’s new work. Founder of the Wallace Arts Trust, Sir James says Leleisi’uao was highly regarded by ISCP – “they had a tremendous amount of praise for his work.” Paintings sell throughout the week, firstly two of Leleisi’uao’s smaller panels and two of Tangaroa’s larger pieces. Both Tangaroa and Cross were unable to attend the art fair this year, busy working on upcoming projects. Cross, a realist painter based in Niue and Auckland, uses landscapes of wherever he travels as a stage for his ideas.
“Coastal Cacophony was produced from a few photographs of a part of the Niue coast that I have been associated with for 40 years, so it has some spiritual meaning for me if not just sentiment. It is a celebration of the pristine (and endangered) coral reef and the unpolluted nature of Nuie’s coast,” Cross says. It is his painting that visitors seem immediately drawn too, and while it is not purchased at the art fair a few days later it is sold.
Saturday and Sunday bring a different crowd of the art appreciative, and a change of scene in the booth with the addition of Marster’s gardenia paintings and Ben Work’s Motutapu series. It is Work’s first time in the Auckland Art Fair. His Motutapu series is titled after a place name present throughout Polynesia, a name which translates to a sacred and safe place, a middle ground and a place for rejuvenation. Having recently moved from Auckland to Tonga, his work has been impacted by his new environment – exploring the idea of a safe space and the use of colour. “The ocean grabbed my attention. I was challenged – how is that not reflected in my work?” Work says.
By Sunday afternoon there is a feeling of elation mixed with weariness. It has been a week of long hours and high energy. Paintings are taken down and The Cloud reassembled into an empty space. Unsold pieces will be returned to the artist or make the journey across the ocean to Bergman Gallery. Many of the paintings though will travel from the Auckland Art Fair in the arms of those who could not leave without them. They will find their place on another wall, perhaps in another city – move from one person’s life into another.