22 February 2006

Uncle Frank

Frontseat are running a poll to find the greatest painting in the land. The hunt is looking for what said painting "says about the New Zealand identity."

Easy, I thought, when I first read about the poll - a McCahon landscape with text, maybe Te Papa's stunning Painting for Uncle Frank. But last night I was reading something that made an interesting point that every country has a senior landscape artist that strayed into abstraction earlier than most, and as such is seen as being particularly important. We had McCahon, Woolaston, Lusk et al.

Australia had it's Sydney Nolan and Heidelberg crowd, which having revisited in recent years and exhibitions, I've gone off a bit. Sure they introduced abstraction to the landscape, but as a standalone painting none are intrinsically that great.

Does McCahon advance our search for a sloganisable national identity (which seems to me to be at the heart of Fronseat's poll) and more than does a Vincent Ward film? Granted his work heavily references our unique environment, and the early influence of religion on society, and he's quite possibly our greatest artist (which is probably what generated this initial reaction) but whether he's the creator of our greatest painting I'm now not so sure.

So is this all something of a wild goose chase? Does a clear and unanymous sense of national identity need to be found before we can find the great painting that best fits this description? Or will finding the greatest painting somehow deliver a magic catalyst that will define who we are wna what our place in the world is?

Either way, I'll be following this one with a greater degree of interest than befits a tv show that is on after bed time on a Sunday night. (/art rant)

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