Christie’s is honoured to present OCEANIA NOW: Contemporary Art from Pacific, curated by Christie’s African and Oceanic Art and Post-War & Contemporary Art departments in Paris.
This exciting exhibition will be followed by Christie’s first dedicated online auction of contemporary artists from the Pacific. Running from 11 February to 1 March, this online auction represents a unique opportunity for the French and international market to engage with some of the most important emergings and established artists in the region today.
Christie’s is delighted to collaborate on this project with Alison Bartley and John Gow, two of the most influential and established gallerists in New Zealand. The exhibition will be free and open to the public and coincide with the online sale catalog published on christies.com, for those unable to attend in person.
Victor Teodorescu and Etienne Sallon, Co-Heads of Sale: “This is an extremely exciting project to bring to our French and international audiences, marking Christie’s debut in presenting an exhibition and auction dedicated to contemporary artists heralding from across many nations of the Pacific. Collectors and the public will have the opportunity to discover these exceptionally talented artists, many of whom eloquently articulate their thriving cultural heritage in a distinctively contemporary language.”
New Zealand stands out as a nerve center of the Pacific art world. The exhibition and auction will feature a selection of some forty works by fifteen established and emerging artists, many based in New Zealand. While some artists have Māori origins, others’ ancestry hails from the Cook Islands, Rarotonga, Samoa or Niue, and other nations within the pacific.
The auction represents several icons of the New Zealand art scene, for example, Lisa Reihana MNZM whose powerful installation Emissaries at the Venice Biennale in 2017 received universal acclaim, and Brett Graham, whose installation Āniwaniwa graced the same stage in 2007, investigating the concept of submergence within a cultural and climatic context, prefiguring the critical zeitgeist of many of today’s young practitioners in contemporary art around the world.
The selection covers three generations of artists, from the most established such as Dame Robin White, Lisa Reihana, Brett Graham, Shane Cotton, and John Pule to emerging artists such as Kelcy Taratoa and Cora-Allan Wickliffe. Works by many artists are already present in prestigious public museum collections in New Zealand and abroad.
The common thread that unites these artists is their desire to reclaim the artistic codes of their culture of origin, while also calling upon universal historical references, via a contemporary plastic language. Of particular note is the work of Roger Mortimer, who juxtaposes fragments of medieval imagery inspired by 15th century illustrated manuscripts and contemporary nautical charts, thus revisiting the narratives of pre-colonial Māori culture, as in this recent work, Whitianga (2021, €6,000-9,000, ill. right).
Celebrated artist John Pule, born in Liku, Niue, immigrated to Auckland, New Zealand with his family in 1964 at the age of two. Since returning to his hometown for the first time in 1991, and frequently thereafter, his personal experiences and the collective experiences of the Niuean people have become a dominant theme in his career. Pule draws on pre-and post-colonial Pacific history, focusing primarily on the intricacies and impact of cultural imperialism and colonization on the Niuean people.
He explores the interactions between traditional Niuean mythology and biblical narratives, illustrating the obvious disconnect between the two, as well as the disruption of Pacific culture due to colonization.
Other leading artists in the selection include the work of Shane Cotton, a pioneer in the renaissance of Māori art in the 1990s. His practice is underpinned by a recurring questioning of his own bicultural identity and our collective identity. While he has reclaimed the cultural and artistic heritage of his ancestors, using Māori and Pakeha symbols in his paintings, for over 20 years Shane Cotton has resorted to biomorphic forms, emphasizing red, black, and white (the primary colours used in traditional Māori kowhaiwhai), as well as green.
This approach translates graphically into circles, curves, and the presence of plant life alongside delicately rendered figurative images, such as birds, heads, or figures, as illustrated as this sumptuous acrylic, In the Sun’s Backstage (estimated at €90,000-120,000). More recently, Shane Cotton has continued to draw on the rich visual history of Maori and European cultures, incorporating references to mythology and religion.
Lisa Reihana’s multidisciplinary practice explores how identity and history are represented, and how these intersect with concepts of place and community. The subjects of her portraits inhabit a world in which the boundaries of past, present, and future are blurred as well as their identities are not established and transgress cultural and social norms.
In Pursuit of Venus is a video project by the artist that required several years of research and creation and consists of a moving image interpretation of Jean-Gabriel Charvet and Joseph Dufour’s 20-panel wallpaper Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique (The Savages of the Pacific Sea), created in 1804, which reflected the widespread fascination with the Pacific voyages of Captain Cook, Bougainville, and La Pérouse, set against the backdrop of a utopian Tahitian landscape.
Two hundred years later, Māori artist Lisa Reihana uses twenty-first-century digital technologies to animate The Savages of the Pacific Sea. While Dufour’s work models Enlightenment beliefs and ideas of human harmony, Reihana’s reading of the past is darker and more nuanced. The artist highlights the complexities of cultural identity and colonization by including scenes of encounters between Europeans and the peoples of the Pacific.