Judy Darragh: So ... you made it?
Exhibition now closed 15 May – 29 Aug 2004
Natasha Conland, Curator Art and Visual Culture, comments on the background to the exhibition Judy Darragh: So … you made it?
‘As an artist progresses in their career, there is a tendency to see them in the context of their best-known high points. Their practice can shift and change quite radically and, with engagement in different media, can also appear quite differently over time. An important role of the retrospective is to give the public an opportunity to tease out the pattern of these changes, especially where exhibitions have taken place in spaces and galleries with less public visibility. However, for contemporary artists, with a practice that is still very much alive, there is an unnerving tendency for these exhibitions to present the artist’s work as somehow of the past.
‘This exhibition of Judy Darragh’s work was motivated by a desire to look at the past twenty years of her practice in the context of the present, and to engage Darragh in the process so that she would be part of the investigation (or making) of that past. A substantial catalogue with a solid chronology fills gaps that the exhibition cannot. But the show itself is a fresh collaboration between artist and curator, explores the tension between the past and an ongoing present, with a new body of work made for the occasion. It is in part Judy Darragh’s generosity of practice - seen throughout the work in this show – that enabled this collaborative and energetic engagement.’
In her interview with Gwynneth Porter in the exhibition catalogue, Darragh summarises what has given rise to her notoriety in the past: ‘I have always sought materials which have either had a previous life or exist at the bottom of the food chain. The used objects carry a past anonymous life. They’ve been discarded, and I resurrect them and display them in the church of “Art”. Cheap and nasty materials have the qualities of mass production – usually plastic, non-archival and speaking of the masses who have no option but to utilise these objects in their lives as decoration – or functionally.’
Through the late 1980s and early 1990s, Judy Darragh began exhibiting small sculptural assemblages made from tacky, cheap, and found objects. The work struck a chord with audiences for her ability to cross the traditional boundaries of craft, art, design, and domestic decoration with wit and ease. She had several high profile solo shows in contemporary art spaces in major centres (such as High Tack , New Zeal , X-Cess , Tick for Tack ) and was also part of several reviews of contemporary New Zealand art during this period (such as Constructed Intimacies , Occupied Zone , and Hangover ).
In this early part of her career, Judy Darragh gained a reputation as the ‘Queen of Kitsch’ both for this fantastic use of degraded materials and for her high-profile position as a collector of popular culture. Since then her practice has diversified in a way that sees her exploring a range of materials and artistic genres to subvert space, with her installation practice; formalism, in her two-dimensional work; and high-end technology, in her audio-visual work. Her more recent exhibitions have seen her move back into three-dimensional practice with the same interest in low-grade or ready-made materials and a formal interest in their ability to move the viewer beyond their status as commodity and towards their function as art.