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Cobwebs on the Institution

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John Ward Knox, Hardly Held Lightly, 2015, steel chain. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2015. Supported by the Chartwell Trust and the Contemporary Benefactors. Photo: Jennifer French   John Ward Knox, Hardly Held Lightly, 2015, steel chain. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2015. Supported by the Chartwell Trust and the Contemporary Benefactors. Photo: Jennifer French    John Ward Knox, Hardly Held Lightly, 2015, steel chain. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2015. Supported by the Chartwell Trust and the Contemporary Benefactors. Photo: Jennifer French    John Ward Knox, Hardly Held Lightly, 2015, steel chain. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2015. Supported by the Chartwell Trust and the Contemporary Benefactors. Photo: Jennifer French    John Ward Knox, Hardly Held Lightly, 2015, steel chain. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2015. Supported by the Chartwell Trust and the Contemporary Benefactors. Photo: Jennifer French    John Ward Knox, Hardly Held Lightly, 2015, steel chain. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2015. Supported by the Chartwell Trust and the Contemporary Benefactors.  Photo: Jennifer French

Even though it is amusing to see chain spider webs decorate the exterior of the revamped Auckland Art Gallery (suggesting a Victorian Gothic sensibility) there is a wider sense that cobwebs on a museum allude to the vagaries of art historical fashion - suggesting that trends can become out-of-date almost before they emerge, and that no matter hard it tries to be current, the civic institution will always be dated and out of touch.

Auckland

 

John Ward Knox
Hardly Held Lightly

 

24 October 2015 - 5 June 2016

Known for his drawing skill and interest in light, extended to subtle installations involving delicate wire, fine chains and plaster modifications of walls, and sometimes jewellery chain spider webs, John Ward Knox takes the latter to a much larger scale in his new show on the Ediniston North Sculpture Terrace at Auckland Art Gallery. Spider webs - normally so evanescently light - are now made with heavy chain: over a kilometre in total of joined up steel links. Two large configurations are placed straddling the Gallery terrace and porch, running up into the branches of a nearby oak tree, while a third is supported by two towering natives that flank the marble steps leading up the hill to Albert Park and the Neil Dawson Throwback sculpture.

Ward Knox’s three chain webs are held high in position by the trees of Albert Park and projecting sections of the gallery building. Apart from absorbing the considerable strain, the load bearing struts and bands are also well padded, so that the trees’ bark is protected from laceration or bruising. Hence the striking title.

The internal, intricately positioned, inner strands of these webs are made of galvanised steel (a soft grey that is also reflective), while the outer perimeter seems to be made of brass, or brass-plated. At the joins where lines connect to the supporting trees, roofs, walls and terraces, there are yellow painted U-bolts that provide occasional dashes of brighter colour.

Unlike real webs which are taut and sticky, these are saggy, heavy and strangely solid - you can rattle them. As with the labours of spiders, the vectors of support, their directional emphasis, affect the overall shape of the web. Function here clearly determines form.

If you sit down in a corner of the porch - at the bottom of the steps (just outside the café) - you can look up to see the silhouette of the ‘terrace web’, beyond the outline of its supporting tree. It is quite unsettling, being reminiscent of the large webs of bird-eating spiders in the Amazon. Against the sky, its spatial location from below is ambiguous and hard to determine.

Even though it is amusing to see chain spider webs decorate the exterior of the revamped Auckland Art Gallery (suggesting a Victorian Gothic sensibility) there is a wider sense that cobwebs on a museum allude to the vagaries of art historical fashion - suggesting that trends can become out-of-date almost before they emerge, and that no matter hard it tries to be current, the civic institution will always be dated and out of touch.

Of course overall Auckland Art Gallery is not a banner waver for experimental or innovative art (it is not meant to be), but the Walters Prize is an important part of its public profile. Ward Knox’s webs still stick and cling as a wry comment on art history, providing a potentially mocking metaphor (tied in with the fact that they are ‘conservative’ accessible crowdpleasers) for the seemingly accelerated passing of time and academic discourse’s frustrated attempt to catch up. Like Atalanta’s race with Hippomenes in that famous Greek legend perhaps.

John Hurrell

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