Michael Lett is pleased to present works of significance by Michael Parekōwhai. Cast in monumental bronze, together the exhibited works operate as object lessons in both stability and the transitory, who is firmly in place and what has the ability to move around. Whereas the artist’s life-size sculpted figure is a masterful yet playful demonstration authority and strength; Parekōwhai’s rendered trees and objects point towards a temporary rootlessness together with the apparatus required to enjoy safe transport from one place to another.
Michael Parekōwhai’s Kapa Haka consists of a figure of a security guard cast in patinated bronze. A formidable presence, the life-size figure adopts a strong stance, with folded arms he calmly surveys his surroundings. Firmly rooted to the ground, Parekōwhai’s uniformed guard emanates authority and power, even access, with a swipe-card dangling at his hip.
This bronze iteration harks back to a crowd of fifteen fibreglass examples previously exhibited for one night, twenty years ago, at the original Michael Lett premises on Karangahape Road.
Parekōwhai’s lone figure takes its title from words used to describe Māori performing arts, specifically those involving groups standing in formation and performing dances accompanied by words chanted or sung. The title echoes the artist’s ongoing concern with performance, particularly musical instruments such as the pianos in On First Looking Towards Chapman’s Homer at the 2011 Venice Biennale and his Ten Guitars (1999); as well as his various performing seals and elephants, and the ballerinas of Song of the Frog (2005).
An intriguing aspect of Kapa Haka is that its meaning alters according to where it is placed. Each time the figure is placed in a different situation the question of what is being guarded or surveyed shifts too.
Michael Parekōwhai’s The Moment of Cubism / Nude Descending a Staircase consists of sculpted lemon trees and a pallet made of patinated bronze.
The saplings appear to be freshly purchased from a nursery, their roots still wrapped in plastic. What is their significance? For an extended period of time the lemon tree had a special place in the hearts of the inhabitants of Aotearoa New Zealand. For many, planting a lemon tree was one of the first things done after purchasing a new home. The citrus together with a feijoa tree, rhubarb patch and rotary clothesline were ubiquitous to the typical New Zealand backyard. Therefore the lemon tree has a connection to Parekōwhai’s The Lighthouse, a public commission from 2017 involving a 1950s New Zealand family home, perched on the end of Queens Wharf.
Supporting the two trees is what appears to be a wooden pallet. Such objects play crucial roles in international shipping, logistics and storage, they enable the safe movement of units from one place to another. Sturdy and ubiquitous, this mundane, modular and repeatable object is co-opted by Parekōwhai and used as a mode of display.
The work shares its title with an art historical essay from the 1960s and a painting from 1912. Parekōwhai cleverly supersedes the art of painting, for though cubist painting concerned itself with capturing objects from multiple perspectives, this objective is easily achieved by visitors who can simply move around the artist’s sculpted forms.
As is always the case with work by Parekōwhai the meaning of this sculpture cannot be fixed or pinned-down. Ever playful, it operates in a slippery and ambiguous zone, it is a puzzle or conundrum that can never be solved. The sculpted elements are made monumental, cast in bronze they become divorced or separated from their usual material realities so that they can endure through time.