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Christchurch Art Gallery hosts Colin McCahon exhibition

16 January 2008

An exhibition celebrating the work of one of New Zealand’s most widely acclaimed artists – Colin McCahon – is being brought to this country by the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu.

The National Gallery of Australia’s travelling exhibition is organised as part of the Gallery’s 25th anniversary year, bringing together works on paper and paintings that reflect key concerns in McCahon’s art from 1950 through to the early 1980s.

Christchurch Art Gallery director Jenny Harper says it is now some than 30 years since McCahon’s monumental painting Victory over death 2 was donated by the New Zealand Government to Australia.

"While it seemed a controversial choice at the time (Muldoon was Prime Minister and was by all accounts appalled at the choice), it was a forward-looking and generous gift to the new National Gallery.

"The painting is now widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of the National Gallery of Australia’s collection and we are delighted to be seeing it here in Christchurch," she says.

"In 1978 the National Gallery of Australia also acquired a magnificent group of works on paper by McCahon which are being shown together in this focus show for the first time.

"These works will be seen in the context of a small number of other key paintings including Crucifixion: the apple branch 1950, a painting that was important to the artist and remained in his studio until his death in 1987." It was acquired in 2004 with the generous assistance of funds from the Sir Otto and Lady Margaret Frankel Bequest.

"Drawn predominantly from the National Gallery of Australia’s collection, one of McCahon’s last paintings, I applied my mind 1980-82, has also been generously lent to this exhibition.

Ms Harper says McCahon is one of the most influential modernists in the Australasian region, producing strikingly original works from the late 1940s to the early 1980s.

"His early figurative work of the 1940s and 1950s was dominated by images drawn from religious paintings, often set in the New Zealand landscape. However, by 1959 he produced his first body of paintings with words – the Elias series, preceded by the Christchurch Art Gallery’s Tomorrow will be the same, but not as this is. From this time, words became overtly important in McCahon’s practice."

In the final decade of his career most of McCahon’s works consist solely of numbers and texts, drawn from biblical or poetic texts. In these he explores his growing interest in Maori culture, personal responses to Christianity, the symbolism of numbers, environmental concerns, and the challenges of faith.

Two decades after Colin McCahon’s death, the exhibition provides access to and further study of the intriguing work of one of the great artists of our region.

The Colin McCahon exhibition will be at the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu from 8 March to 8 June 2008.

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