The free-est and purest aesthetic statements of the twentieth century have been made in abstract painting.
Pioneering Māori artist Ralph Hotere inserted this quote, by American minimalist Ad Reinhardt, in one of his exhibition catalogues in London in the 1960s. Hotere was inspired by the purity of Reinhardt’s pared-back aesthetic.
Hotere’s work has often been discussed in relation to Reinhardt’s, but this exhibition shows their work together in conversation for the first time. It also includes interventions by Māori sculptor Matt Pine, who like Hotere, attended the Central School of Art and Design in London in the 1960s and whose work is similarly associated with American minimalism.
This exhibition focuses on minimalist art and explores both its influence and how it was absorbed and reimagined within Māori modernism.
Ralph Hotere, Black painting XV, from ‘Malady’ a poem by Bill Manhire, 1970. Purchased 1971. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (1971-0024-2).
Ralph Hotere rarely spoke about his art, but he sometimes incorporated the words of New Zealand poets in his works.
These black paintings use a pattern poem by Bill Manhire – a play on the words ‘malady’, ‘melody’, and ‘my lady’.
Language, for Hotere, was one way of slowing down the delivery of meaning in a painting. This work needs to be read as well as looked at. It begs you to savour the words in your mouth, to absorb the subtle tones of black with your eyes.
Ralph Hotere, Red on black. From the portfolio: Barry Lett Multiples, 1969. Purchased 1990 with Harold Beauchamp Collection funds. © Reproduced courtesy of Ralph Hotere. Te Papa (1990-0026-4).
Ralph Hotere, Orange on black, 1968, acrylic on hardboard. Purchased 1982 with New Zealand Lottery Board funds. © Reproduced courtesy of Ralph Hotere Te Papa (1982-0063-2).
Matt Pine, Line, commissioned 2016. Te Papa
Matt Pine graduated from Auckland School of Fine Arts in 1962, then travelled to England where he spent 10 years in London. There he was influenced by the Minimalist sculptors such as Donald Judd and Carl Andre but also by the ‘clean geometric lines’ of the less rigid minimalists Sol Le Witt and Robert Morris.
His work in this exhibition references the defined forms, clean lines and reduced colour palette of Ad Reinhardt and Ralph Hotere’s black paintings.
Matt Pine, Centre Line, commissioned 2016. Te Papa
Māori and Polynesia cultural forms began featuring in Matt Pine’s work on his return to New Zealand from London in the 1970s.
Pine explored Pātaka (store house) and Hīnaki (eel trap) forms as well as landform structures from places including Porere, Gate Pa and the circular archaeological excavation site at Te Awanga in the Hawkes Bay. Centre line, 2016, plays off the crucifix-like fine lines that bisect many of Hotere’s black paintings.
Ad Reinhardt, Untitled (#6) from the portfolio '10 Screenprints', 1966. Purchased 2015 with Harold Beauchamp Collection funds. Te Papa (2015-0054-6).
Ad Reinhardt’s black works require patience. Although at first they appear to be pure black, subtleties of tone reveal themselves slowly, like your eyes adjusting to a darkened room. Geometric shapes in deep tones of grey, indigo, and maroon are barely discernible on the flat black background.
Reinhardt rigidly believed in art for art’s sake. He wanted his work to refer to nothing outside itself – instead, it is all about standing before an art work and just seeing.
Ad Reinhardt, Untitled (#5) from the portfolio: 10 Screenprints, 1966. Purchased 2015 with Harold Beauchamp Collection funds. © Ad Reinhardt/ARS. Licensed by Viscopy, 2016. Te Papa (2015-0054-5).