Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Student's Newspaper. Volume 31 Number 2. March 12, 1968
'Ascent' on the arts
'Ascent' on the arts
Ascent: A Journal of the Arts in New Zealand. Vol. 1. No. 1. November, 1967. Published by the Caxton Press. $1.50. Reviewed by Mary Everett.
Since the Arts Year Book ceased publication in 1951, there has been no regular art periodical in this country. In recent years there has been a considerable increase in the number of serious artists working in New Zealand, and dealer galleries have been established in several cities. Many exhibitions have come here from overseas, and in Auckland in particular, local exhibitions of contemporary painting have aroused much interest. However, there has as yet been comparatively little informed art criticism, and no attempt at the documentation of these events.
The news that the Caxton Press was planning to publish an art review had created keen anticipation that at long last we were to have a publication comparable with overseas art magazines. Now that "Ascent" has appeared, one's first impressions are of an attractive, well produced publication. It is printed on good quality art paper, and it has plenty of large, clear reproductions. The magazine has articles by John Summers on the work of M. T. Woollaston and by Gordon Brown on Patrick Hanly's recent paintings. Beverley Simmons contributes an appreciation of the work of the potter Patricia Perrin, and Gil Docking interviews the sculptor Greer Twiss. There are also articles by Douglas McDiarmid, Bruce Mason and Charles Brasch. In a review section there are discussions of the 1966 New Zealand Contemporary Painting exhibition and of the Auckland art scene, and a review of the articles on art in the New Zealand encyclopaedia.
Douglas McDiarmid, an expatriate New Zealand painter living in Paris, writes, in very general terms, on "What is art supposed to do?" His article suffers from a lack of precision, but has some pertinent comments on the local scene:
"As things stand in New Zealand there is danger of national insipidity. In too many cases one can observe the whole mental mechanism involved in trying to be thought nice, but nothing to be clear . . . Most of our problems arise from our unadmitted smallnesses and fear. New Zealanders tend to resent and resist outside standards that are difficult to compete with, and as a result remain closed in."
R. N. O'Reilly's review of the art section of the New Zealand encyclopaedia is a scholarly examination of an unsatisfactory approach to the writing of art history.
Unfortunately, however, much of the writing in the magazine lacks clarity. Most literary criticism in this country has competence and a considerable degree of sophistication, but comparable standards have not yet been developed in the field of art criticism. In his leading article on M. T. Woollaston, John Summers provides us with little factual information and no new insights into the work discussed. His vague eulogising in the long run does the painter a disservice.
Among the painting reproduced are works by Milan Mrkusich, Colin McCahon, Rita Angus and Michael Smither, Barry Cleavin and John Drawbridge are each represented with a group of prints. These illustrations have captions, but no other accompanying text. Since to many people the publication will be an introduction to art in his country, it is a pity that there is no biographical information on these artists.
There are two full-page colour reproductions of excellent quality, and it is difficult to understand why one of these was not used on the cover. As both of the reproductions are of abstract works, one can only conclude that the editors feel safer with the landscape image. With its timid typography, the cover would be more suited to a literary magazine of the 1930s than to an art publication of 1967. There is no indication as to how often it is to appear. The pretentious title page could well have included the list of contents, as is usual in publications of this nature.
There are no notes on contributors, and no information on current and forthcoming exhibitions. This failure to cover activities in the art centres throughout the country leaves the reader with a feeling of isolation from the events taking place.
If "Ascent" is to be successful, it will have to be both critical and selective; but in this, its first issue, no clear sense of direction is apparent.